A decline in appetite and nutrition is a serious problem especially when seen in the elderly. Regardless the adage “they’ll wither and die” seniors do not have to wither before they die. Age doesn’t matter. As humans we require good nutrition to function. The body still needs energy and without the energy obtained from food, malnutrition happens.
There are a number of reasons seniors eat less and when families or caregivers see these signs, it’s important they address them immediately.
- Dental Issues– Ill-fitting dentures make gums tender and sore. A quick trip to the dentist for regular visits (especially to have dentures and partials checked) is important. Sores, blisters and even serious infection can occur in the mouth and though a parent may have dentures, dental hygiene is still important for healthy gums and bad breath.
- Loneliness and depression – Depression and loneliness are major contributors in malnutrition for seniors. Their desire to live slips away and “the nothing left to live for” syndrome creeps in. A caregiver or regular visits and phone calls help with this issue. It’s not fun to eat alone and adding calls or visits at mealtime boots moral and the sense of being needed or loved. If depression seems evident, contact a physician for additional help and care.
- Bodily functions slow – As the body ages, the stomach empties slower, digests slower and the senses of taste and smell lessen. The body doesn’t crave to be fed but it still needs to be fed. Adding bright colored foods and “stick to your ribs” meals, helps. Bright colored fruit and steamed vegetables (steamed to a soft chew) are more enticing. Their consistency is softer and the availability is much easier for snacking. Baked sweet potatoes, oatmeal with a spoon of powdered milk added, thickens to an easier consistency to aid the swallow reflex. Adding cinnamon, thyme, and other flavorful and aroma filled spices to warm cereals and hot teas aid in stimulating hunger.
- Dementia – Varied types of dementia lead seniors to simply forget how to prepare foods or even how to or when to eat. As dementia progresses foods must be pureed to a consistency that can be sipped through a straw or from a spoon. Careful monitoring is required at this stage as the body will forget how to swallow and choking is a hazard.
- Preparing meals is too cumbersome – Seniors are more apt to skip meals when they feel cooking is too much for one person. Adding easy to cook meals is a great answer. Though frozen meals are not high on the nutrition list, something is better than nothing. So add easy one-step meals to the freezer and look for meals which offer more vegetables and higher proteins. Rather than purchasing the single serve meals, purchase the middle size (2-3 serving size) this will allow for left overs that can be reheated for another meal. Prepare casseroles that can be broken into single or double size meals and frozen. Small fresh servings of salad, coleslaw and cut-up vegetables can be placed in zip-loc bags for easy access.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate – A great investment for aging parents – a water cooler. Companies will deliver and change the water bottles to prevent seniors from lifting and tugging. Coolers are available with hot and cold water making it possible for hot soup mixes, coffees and even some one-step meals to be prepared by simply adding hot water. Keep cups or plastic glasses in the places seniors frequent most. If it is there, they will usually sip.
Yes, loss of appetite is a sign of aging. But it is not the norm. When seniors skip meals or weight loss occurs, seek the guidance of a physician and a nutritionist. Remember, eating is essential to good health…regardless of the age.