sad woman cutting vegetablesAs you grow older, you might notice your appetite is not what it once was. If caring for an older loved one, they may refuse to eat or only consume certain foods sparingly. A decrease in one’s appetite can be related to growing older, due to a decline in energy levels, resting metabolic rate and physical activity.

On the other hand, signs like sudden weight loss or restrictive eating are concerning for a couple reasons. It can interfere with how the body heals and older adults who lose at least 10 percent of their body weight tend to experience increased mortality rates.

When Decreased Appetite Is a Concern

Due to the physical changes of getting older, it’s often considered “normal” to eat less. A decrease in appetite can also be the result of naturally fluctuating hormonal levels.

Older adults might make dietary adjustments with dentures or when taking medication to avoid certain side effects. Yet, a sudden change in diet or weight can also be a sign of a more serious health condition, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • A thyroid disorder
  • Mouth or throat infection
  • Gum disease
  • Cancer, particularly lung, stomach, ovarian or pancreatic
  • Changes to the salivary glands
  • Dry mouth
  • Hepatitis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Other Factors Behind Loss of Appetite

If you’re caring for a loved one who has suddenly stopped eating or only does so in a limited capacity, this change could be a result of:

  • Chewing difficulties, due to dental issues, dry mouth, an infection or dentures
  • Swallowing difficulties, potentially stemming from an underlying health condition
  • Being upset by how a food smells or tastes, or finding that everything tastes bland
  • Requiring assistance to eat following a stroke
  • Dehydration, which can contribute to decreased appetite
  • Not getting enough exercise, which can also impact appetite
  • Gastrointestinal changes that make eating and digesting uncomfortable
  • No longer being able to independently prepare meals

How to Improve Appetite and Nutrition

A few changes can help you or a loved one feel hungrier or maintain sufficient nutrition:

  • Consider eating in group settings more frequently
  • Schedule time each day for some form of physical activity
  • Serve smaller portions of food
  • Eat foods with more vitamins and minerals
  • Develop a daily routine for eating, including all three meals and snacks
  • Have smaller meals more often throughout the day
  • Ask for assistance with planning and preparing meals
  • If you’re having trouble with utensils, consume more “finger foods”
  • Consult your doctor, who may develop a nutrition plan or recommend an appetite stimulant

At West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center, our dining staff considers the dietary issues of each patient during a short or long-term stay. To learn more about our services or speak with a Registered Dietitian, contact us today.