Mild changes in appetite are, often times, just a normal part of aging. Many seniors simply lose the energy to cook for themselves. They may also lose interest in foods for other reasons, such as taste bud changes, depression, differing health conditions, or medication side effects. Seniors’ metabolisms are slower than those of younger adults, so they need fewer calories, and thus, seniors naturally eat less than they used to. Most of the normal types of appetite changes happen slowly over time. If Mom’s appetite has changed very suddenly, it may be a sign of something more serious.
Helping Mom Eat Enough
If Mom is not eating enough for any reason, talk to her doctor about what type of senior eating plan will work best for her. Learn about the national eating guidelines for seniors. Stay on top of things. Some small ways that you can help Mom eat enough and stay healthy are:
Focus on Foods That Are High in Calories and Rich in Nutrients, Not on Portion Size
Rather than trying to make Mom overeat, which is never healthy, offer her foods that are high in both calories and in good nutrients. These types of foods will keep her full and help her maintain a healthy body. Foods that contain healthy fats are a good way to get Mom some extra calories in small portion sizes. Try foods like avocado, peanut butter, olive oil, and nuts.
Have a Regular Eating Schedule
Our bodies work cyclically and they run on their own internal clocks. Have Mom sit down and eat at roughly the same times every day for each meal. If she is not hungry at meal time, offer her a small, high-calorie, healthy snack and encourage her to eat a few bites. Getting Mom on a regular meals schedule can encourage her body’s hunger signals to start to kick in at the same times every day.
Know the Side Effects of Mom's Medications
Many medications can cause side effects that make it difficult or uncomfortable for Mom to eat. If her medications are causing dry mouth, encourage her to chew sugarless gum, brush her teeth often, or use an oral rinse before meals to help her with saliva production. Some medications can make foods taste metallic. If Mom doesn’t like the flavor of one food, try a substitute that has similar nutritional value. For example, instead of meat, choose a different protein like eggs, beans, or cheese.
Encourage Mom to Eat Her Meals with Others
Studies have shown that eating alone can reduce one’s appetite, while eating with others can actually encourage a person to eat more food. If Mom lives alone in a house or in an apartment, meet her for her meals as often as you can, or help her schedule a fun meal out to eat with her friends. Many senior centers and churches offer meal times specifically for seniors to come and enjoy eating with their friends and family. If Mom lives in an assisted living community, encourage her to eat her meals in the main dining area with other residents.
If Necessary, Use an Appetite Stimulant
Sometimes, making changes to Mom’s schedule or to her surroundings is simply not enough. Many seniors have benefited from the use of prescription appetite stimulants. Talk to Mom’s doctor to learn more about appetite stimulants and to find out if using one is the right choice for Mom.
When Should You Be Concerned?
If Mom is not getting enough to eat for any reason, you should be concerned, and you should talk to her doctor about what you can do to help. Malnutrition, which is a deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients that is linked to an improper diet, can cause several additional health problems.
Be aware of the fact that sudden appetite changes can also be a sign of something more serious. Many diseases present themselves through appetite changes, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, certain types of cancers, mouth or throat infections, periodontal disease, salivary gland dysfunction, and thyroid disorders. Talk to Mom’s doctor as soon as possible if you suspect that her change in appetite has something to do with a much bigger health problem.