By Guest Blogger Robin Amylon
Decreased appetite or loss of appetite are a natural part of aging, however it’s still important to make sure that you or your loved ones get enough calories and nutrients. Dietary changes can be caused by a number of different factors such as changing taste buds, depression, loneliness, lack of energy to cook, and side effects of health conditions or medications. Although decreased appetite is a normal part of the aging process, it’s always important to consult a physician when changes occur to rule out any underlying health problems.
As we age, several physiological and perceptual changes can lead to decreased appetite in the elderly. Seniors generally need fewer calories due to a lower metabolic rate and decrease in muscle mass and physical activity. Gastrointestinal changes or dental problems that occur as we get older can affect appetite. Changes in the sense of taste and smell can also affect the enjoyment of food causing a decrease in consumption. These are all normal changes.
If your loved one is making poor food choices due to these changes, however, or isn’t eating enough, than that’s cause for concern. Significant health problems can occur due to vitamin or nutrient deficiencies if older adults don’t receive proper nutrition.
If you’re concerned about your elderly loved one’s lack of appetite, here are a few things you can do to help them receive all the nutrition they need.
Focus on high calorie, nutrient dense foods. Increase nutrient density, not portion size. When you already have a poor appetite, it is very unlikely that you are just automatically going to eat more food. When you consume foods that are nutrient and calorically dense however, you only have to consume small portions of them in order to receive an adequate amount of nutrients. These foods give you more bang for your buck. Examples of healthy foods that are nutrient and calorically dense are:
- Nuts and seeds: add to oatmeal, cereal, salads, or have a handful for a snack
- Nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, etc.): serve on toast, crackers, bagels, bananas, apples and celery; enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk; mix peanut butter in oatmeal or add to smoothies.
- Avocados: add to salads, sandwiches or blend in a smoothie
- Olive oil: use to saute vegetables and meats, use as salad dressing, add to rice or mashed potatoes
- Powdered milk: Add to milk, mix into puddings, mashed potatoes, soups, ground meats, vegetables, cooked cereal, milkshakes, yogurt and pancake batter
- Eggs: Add to casseroles, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, cooked cereal and chicken or tuna salad
- Cheeses: give as snacks or in a sandwich, add to casseroles, potatoes, vegetables and soups
- Smoothies/milk shakes: make a smoothie/milkshake with milk or yogurt, mixed fruit, peanut butter and banana or avocado. You can add protein powder for more protein
Don’t forget your protein. Make sure to include high protein foods with every meal and snack. Foods high in protein include:
- Meats: beef, chicken, fish, turkey, lamb, pork
- Milk and cheese: yogurt, cottage cheese, low fat milk
- Peanut butter
- Dried beans and peas
Set a regular eating schedule. Eating small, frequent meals at regular times in a day can help get the body’s hunger signals going again as well as reinforce the habit of eating.
Encourage social meals. For individuals of any age, not just seniors, eating alone can reduce appetite. In many cultures eating is a very social event so it’s important to encourage older adults to not eat alone. Check out the meal options at senior centers, temple/churches and community centers, as well as meal “dates’ with friends, family or caregivers.
Drink fluids in between meals. Drinking fluids before or during a meal can make you feel full quicker so it is important for seniors to eat their meal first and then drink their fluids.
Consider using an appetite stimulant. Some seniors have success with prescription appetite stimulants. Consult with your physician to determine if this is an appropriate option.
Robin Amylon is an NYC-based Nutritionist. She received her Bachelor of Science from Queens College in Nutrition and Exercise Science and is currently finishing a program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital to become a Dietitian.