In youth, losing weight is all the rage. Counting calories, fitting into that coveted dress or pair of jeans – it’s all such a part of our cultural conversation that it’s become cliché. At a certain age, that changes. Weight loss in the elderly canoften be a sign that’s something is wrong.
Many caregivers know the fear and worry that comes from watching someone you love turn down meals and drop pounds. A little loss in appetite is a normal symptom of aging, but it can quickly cross a line into being a problem. The mortality rates for seniors who lose a significant percentage of their body weight (10% was the example used in one study) are much higher than average.
Possible Causes of Loss of Appetite in the Elderly
As we age, our taste buds change, so for many seniors food just doesn’t taste as good. But resistance to eating is also a common side effect of a long and varied list of health ailments, including:
- Some types of cancer
- Thyroid disorders
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Mouth and throat infections
- Parkinson’s disease
- Periodontal disease
A lack of appetite is also a common side effect for many types of medications. For any senior with a list of daily meds, that’s probably one of the first places to look when you’re trying to suss out the cause. Do talk to your doctor about what might be behind the appetite loss before jumping to any conclusions. They can help you pinpoint what’s really going on.
What You Can Do About It
Noticing the problem will only take you so far. Here are a few tips for helping your loved one get back on track with a healthy diet.
- Try to identify the cause.
This will help you hone in on the right solution. Maybe it will just be a matter of swapping out some of their meds, or maybe they need to start getting treatment for a more serious illness. Either way, you want to know the root cause that you’re treating.
- Make eating social.
Make meal times something to look forward to. If eating is associated with time spent chatting with loved ones, it won’t be so easy to skip or forget meals.
- Keep regular meal times.
Consistency can help. Set a timer if you need to, but make meals a regular occurrence on a set schedule so it’s part of their daily routine.
- Try out different recipes (and repeat what works).
Your loved one may respond better to some flavors than others, and the food they like now may be different than what they usually went for in years past. Try out different things and make a note of anything they like.
Look for recipes that pack in some good nutrient density so they’ll get more of the nutrients they need even if the quantities are small.
- Consider an appetite stimulant.
Talk to your doctor about whether an appetite stimulant is a good fit for your loved one. If your other attempts aren’t working, this could be the thing that makes the difference.
Eating well is important at any age, but the particular challenges around maintaining a healthy diet can change. Let your doctor help guide a plan to ensure that your loved one gets the treatment they need for any underlying causes of the problem and that you can move forward with a diet that works for your loved one.