Tips for Caregivers: Appetite Change
Eating is of course fundamentally important to our overall health. When a senior experiences an appetite change it can make eating a challenge.
A change in appetite can keep seniors from getting enough nutrients, which weakens their immune systems and causes unwanted weight loss.
This is concerning as we work to help seniors maintain their quality of life, but there are simple steps to take to help seniors adjust the way they eat as they age.
Possible reasons for appetite changes
There are many reasons our appetites change as we age, including physical and psychological factors.
If an older adult loses their appetite, the first step is to speak with their doctor to rule out or identify any serious medical conditions.
Health conditions commonly associated with ageing that can affect appetite include:
- Side effects from medication such as dry mouth, a metallic taste, or altered taste of food and water.
- Serious illness can cause changes in appetite, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, hepatitis, liver disease, or kidney failure.
- Other medical issues can make it difficult to eat, such as problems with the mouth and throat, salivary glands, or breathing trouble.
- Physical disabilities can make preparing food and eating more difficult.
As we age, physical changes to our digestive system, hormones, and senses can affect our appetite. We might lose our sense of taste or smell or have a more sensitive digestive system that can’t handle foods like it used to. As we age, our bodies also digest food more slowly, which can make us feel fuller longer. In this case, it’s important not to wait until feeling hungry to eat.
Some seniors might also have physical limitations such as difficulty preparing meals for themselves or holding silverware and eating without assistance.
Seniors can also lose interest in eating because of psychological reasons including loneliness, grief, and depression. The feelings could even be solely associated with eating, as they might face frustration around mealtimes, whether they eat in a stressful environment or struggle to eat independently.
If a senior’s lifestyle has changed from what they were used to, they might be met with a lack of routine and motivation. This can include a lack of exercise. All of these factors contribute to stimulating and maintaining a healthy appetite.
Improve seniors’ experience with eating
To combat these inevitable changes in appetite, we need to think bigger than just the food that seniors are eating. We need to use compassion and patience to reframe their overall dining experience and provide the assistance they need. From who they eat with, to portions, all of these factors have a major impact on whether eating is fulfilling or just plain frustrating.
Seniors should eat with a loved one or friends. Eating with others combats loneliness and depression and is a natural, enriching way to connect with others. It can help to distract from the negative factors that make meals frustrating by offering a more fulfilling way to view mealtimes.
Having a consistent routine can remove some of the major variables that surround eating, including feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty or forgetting to eat. It simplifies meals and snacks as a built-in and deliberate part of the day.
A portion that is too large can be intimidating to conquer during a meal. If a senior is reluctant to eat, they can try smaller portions throughout the day. High-nutrient foods packed with vitamins and minerals can help to make smaller meals just as nutritious as large meals. Prepare meals in large amounts and store them in individual servings for easier access.
Discuss the positives of eating
Food might have previously been considered comforting or even celebratory. However when the appetite dwindles, food can lose its meaning. Discuss food with the goal of exploring what different foods do for our bodies. How do foods nourish us? This can reframe why eating is so important.
Enhance food flavors
Food can be as tasty and visually appealing as it is nutritious and necessary. Here are some tips for creating healthy, flavorful meals and snacks to give seniors the fuel they need to stay healthy.
Use the nutritional guidelines for older adults to understand dietary choices that are best for seniors, including:
- Low in fat and sodium, high in fiber and calcium, with a moderate calorie content
- Easy to chew, swallow and digest
- Simple to prepare
- Appealing to the eye and the palate
Healthy flavor enhancers
Putting nutritional, balanced meals together doesn’t have to be difficult. Get back to basics and choose from a variety of whole, fresh foods.
- Start with healthy proteins such as chicken, fish, grass-fed meats, or eggs.
- Add bright and colorful fruits and vegetables, and fibrous grains, nuts, or legumes.
- Transform these ingredients with a variety of healthy flavor enhancers, including herbs and spices, vinegar, oils, and sauces.
Readily available snacks
Outside of mealtimes, use the above nutritional guidelines to have healthy snacks readily available so that if a drop in blood sugar comes on, it’s easy to access food.
Snacks could include:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Peanut butter with fruit, celery, or crackers
- Full-fat yogurt or cottage cheese
Dining at The Kensington Sierra Madre
At The Kensington Sierra Madre, we incorporate this type of thoughtfulness into every meal, creating a fine dining experience for our residents and families. This includes excellence in cuisine, presentation, service, and atmosphere.
Our professionally trained executive chef creates meals that are not only flavorful and nutritious, but also presented well. View a sample menu of our daily specials here.
We invite you to contact us to learn more about dining services at The Kensington Sierra Madre.