Senior Malnutrition: How to Feed a Poor Appetite

  • March 9, 2020
Senior Malnutrition: How to Feed a Poor Appetite

Written With Guest Blogger and Nutritionist, Robin Amylon

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.

Decreased appetite or loss of appetite are a natural part of aging, however, senior malnutrition can have dangerous consequences. 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.

Signs Of Malnutrition

For those who are not eating enough, due to a lack of access to food or health issues, the signs of malnutrition can vary depending on your age and lifestyle. In children, signs of malnutrition can manifest in those who are overweight or obese. When it comes to senior malnutrition, however, it can often be a hidden problem since many seniors live alone.

With the rising costs of healthcare and people now living longer than prior generations, many seniors are faced with the dilemma of paying for health care or paying for food. In fact, the nonprofit organization Feeding America estimates that 5.5 million seniors in America are currently struggling with food insecurity and senior malnutrition. Here are the signs of malnutrition to look for in your loved one:

  • Keep An Eye On Eating Habits. A sudden change in eating habits that results in rapid weight loss can be a sign of senior malnutrition. If your loved one lives alone, be sure to physically check in on them often, as you can’t pick up on those types of changes over the phone.

  • Look For Red Flags. Senior malnutrition can also make it harder for wounds to heal, as well as dental problems. In addition, a lack of nutrition can create more weakness or lightheadedness, which ultimately can result in experiencing falls.

  • Take Note of Medications. If your loved one takes different medications, talk to a doctor about not only how they interact with one another, but what the side effects may be. Many prescription drugs can affect appetite, digestion and even nutrient absorption.

  • Depression and Isolation. Both a cause and sign of senior malnutrition, depression, anxiety and isolation can have a negative impact on the body. Grief, loneliness, lack of mobility and failing health can all lead to a lack of appetite. If an otherwise healthy senior suddenly becomes withdrawn and removes themselves from social situations, this could be a sign of poor appetite.

Overcoming Senior Malnutrition

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 proper senior nutrition in order to stay healthy:

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.

Don’t forget your protein. Make sure to include high protein foods with every meal and snack. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood, as well as enzymes and hormones.

Address food insecurity. If you or a loved one are unable to buy enough food to remain healthy and nourished, there are a variety of programs and organizations that can provide food and meals to help bridge the gap. Programs like Feeding America, Meals on Wheels and SNAP are in place to help those suffering from senior malnutrition and hunger.

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, places of worship and community centers, as well as meal “dates’ with friends, family or caregivers.

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.

Good Nutrition For Seniors

If the issue is not food insecurity, but rather food ignorance, these are wonderful examples of healthy foods that are nutrient and calorically dense:

  • 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, meatloaf, 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/milkshakes: make a smoothie/milkshake with milk or yogurt, mixed fruit, peanut butter and banana or avocado. You can add protein powder for more protein.

  • 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

Don’t Suffer In Silence

Just because you live alone doesn’t mean that you are disconnected from people who care about you. Even if your family or friends do not live close by, Medical Guardian’s 24/7 monitoring services can provide you with a connection to help whenever you need it, day or night. With just the push of a button, you can access a variety of help based on your needs, so you will never have to suffer in silence, especially if you are experiencing signs of malnutrition.

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Medical Guardian is a leading provider of innovative medical alert systems that empower people to live a life without limits.


KEYWORDS: Senior malnutrition, Signs of malnutrition, Nutrition for seniors, appetite, elderly, older adult, Medical Guardian, medical alert device, Feeding America, seniors, healthy foods,