A decline in appetite as we age is relatively common as the amount of calories burnt throughout the day reduce and therefore we do not require the same amount of food we used to consume. However, in some cases there can be underlying issues that are causing this lack of appetite that should be looked out for. Here are a selection of the most likely causes of a decrease in appetite and how to combat them:
As briefly mentioned above, as we age our ability to move for long or short periods of time can decrease, this tends to be due to injuries, decrease in muscle mass and bone strength or accessibility to exercise facilities. If possible, try to go on a daily walk to start burning some extra calories and keep joints and muscles from tightening up. This will not only cause an increase in appetite but getting out the house also has a host of positive well-being aspects.
In some cases a sedentary lifestyle is forced upon someone through disability. Depending on the severity of the disability this may also make it difficult for them to obtain quality ingredients and to cook healthy meals for themselves. For people in this situation, it may be worth approaching a care company and have them send a carer over in the evening to cook and clean, this way their diet can still be maintained.
Lack of routine:
Eating at a similar time of day on a regular basis will help regulate hunger levels. There isn't an issue with snacking throughout the day as long as they are at scheduled throughout the day, this will again help regulate hunger levels and can make it easier to get through a higher number of calories. If you prefer to eat full meals and snack less but find it difficult to stick to a routine then this is another task that a carer can help with as you can arrange a time for them to come in a cook everyday. Knowing someone is going to come in to cook and clean will make eating more convenient as well.
A sudden or gradual decline in overall health is a big factor in those who suddenly lose their appetite. Cancers, dementia, depression and digestive system problems all can cause a lack of appetite. Moreover, certain medications that they may be taking for other health issues might cause side effects such as dry mouth or nausea that make it more difficult to maintain a healthy, regular diet.
Decrease in senses:
With an increase in age, a significant number of taste buds shrink and it becomes more difficult to distinguish between certain flavours and the meals that used to be enjoyed by the elderly person no longer appeal to them. A way to combat this is by regularly introducing new flavours and if possible new textures to meals, this will keep meal times interesting and encourage the daily consumption of food.
It goes without saying that pain when eating caused by lip, gum or tooth problems will significantly reduce ones willingness to eat and will reduce daily calorie intake potentially leading to unhealthy weight loss, difficulty regulating body temperature, skin problems as well as fatigue. This is why it's important to maintain good oral hygiene for as long as possible to reduce the onset of these issues. Checking in with dentist every 6 months is recommended and will help stop/ slow the onset of dental problems.
Creating and maintaining a healthy diet for an elderly relative can be a very simple process. It doesn't require huge changes and there are thousands of great recipes out there that can be of use to you. Here are the main dietary points that we recommend following to continue living a healthy life:
- Increase the amount of meals but reduce the portion size (4 to 5 meals per day)
- Remember to consume enough water as dehydration can lead to other health issues
- Limit the amount of food/drinks high in refined sugars such as sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks