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Managing an Older Person’s Decline in Appetite

Preparing and sharing a meal with an older loved one is a wonderful bonding experience, especially when the recipe is a traditional family favourite. However, as you dig into your meal, your parent might be just nibbling or pushing the food around their plate. If this behaviour persists, your loved one’s lack of appetite may be cause for concern.

Whether due to age, illness, or medication side effects, a decreased interest in food can lead to malnutrition, a weakened immune system, weight loss, and other health issues. However, with patience, understanding, and a proactive approach, you can help them maintain their nutrition and overall well-being.

What can cause an appetite decline in older people?

Caregivers can take some solace in the fact that appetite decline in older adults is very common. However, the root cause needs to be discovered for a solution to be found.

Some of the causes of appetite decline include:

  • Health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer
  • Medication side effects
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or eating independently
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of routine
  • Inability to prepare meals
  • Depression, anxiety, or loneliness

How can I encourage an older adult to eat?

You can try several strategies to get your loved one to eat again. However, it’s essential to take them to their family doctor first to rule out any severe health conditions or side effects from medication that may be causing their decline in appetite. If you have documented the older person’s weight and eating habits, bring your records to the doctor.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis, depression, gum disease, and mouth and throat infections can all cause older people to eat less. Only your doctor can determine if the underlying reason is medically related and recommend the right course of action with respect to the diagnosis.

You can also try these approaches to encourage eating:

Modify their menu

While offering a balanced diet is vital, incorporating their favourite dishes can make eating more appealing. However, if your loved one has difficulty swallowing or dental issues, modify the texture of their food. Soft, easy-to-chew options can make eating more comfortable.

Certain foods, such as ginger, cinnamon, and mint, are known to stimulate appetite. Incorporate these into meals or offer them as snacks to help increase your loved one’s interest in eating.

Small, frequent meals and snacks can be more manageable than three large meals per day. Provide a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, cheese, peanut butter or other nut butters, finely chopped eggs or meat, avocado, yogurt, diced fruit, and whole milk, to ensure they get the most nutrients from every bite when they do eat.

You can ease frustration if self-feeding is a challenge by introducing adaptive utensils, cutting food into small, bite-size portions, or serving finger foods that are easy to grasp, such as string cheese, sandwiches, chicken fingers, and more.

Food presentation can also make a difference in enticing your loved one to eat. Use colourful plates, garnishes, and creative plating techniques to make their meals visually appealing.

If the older person no longer cooks and you cannot prepare every meal for them, consider hiring an in-home care service to shop for ingredients and prepare meals according to your loved one’s nutritional and dietary needs and restrictions.

Share a meal together

Eating with your loved one can sometimes work magic with increasing their appetite. Whether it solves loneliness or sitting with someone who is enjoying the meal, they might just start eating without even realizing it. It’s also an excellent opportunity to have a pleasant conversation and gain insights into why they don’t like to eat in the first place.

Invite other family members, including grandchildren, to dinner for a fun, festive occasion your loved one will enjoy.

Create a positive, supportive atmosphere

Depression, anxiety, and loneliness can contribute to a loss of appetite. You can help minimize the effects of these conditions on your loved one’s appetite by providing companionship, engaging in enjoyable activities, and seeking professional mental health support if needed.

The dining environment can also play a significant role in appetite. Ensure that the dining area is well-lit, comfortable, and free from distractions. Make mealtimes a pleasant and social experience that encourages conversation and positive interactions.

Maintain a daily routine

Establishing a regular meal schedule can help regulate their appetite. Consistency in mealtimes provides a sense of predictability that can make eating more comfortable and successful, especially in people with progressive cognitive conditions.

You may have to experiment with different schedules to determine which works best for your loved one, but once you have it, stick to it. Incorporate adequate physical activity such as walking, stretching, exercise, swimming, and light gardening to help burn calories and increase their appetite.

Dehydration can also exacerbate a lack of appetite. Don’t wait for the person to feel thirsty – incorporate regular intervals of hydration throughout the day, such as water, herbal teas, and other hydrating beverages. Coffee and alcoholic drinks can encourage dehydration, so limit their intake.

Remember that managing a loved one’s decline in appetite can be a long and challenging process. Approach the situation with patience, empathy, and love. Be flexible in your approach and adapt to their changing needs to help them stay healthy, happy, and fulfilled.

Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

CareHop specializes in providing quality eldercare services when your family needs support to help your elderly loved one live at home independently and with optimal health through proper care and nutrition.

Our caregivers provide professional in-home nursing care, PSW services, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that focuses on your loved one’s specific needs. We also offer in-home elder care services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship so they can enjoy their vintage years with the highest quality of life possible.

CareHop’s elder care services are designed to positively impact your loved one’s life throughout the year or at certain times when you need us the most.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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