Many people notice a drop in appetite as they age. For people who are struggling with their weight, this may seem like a good thing. Not wanting to eat certainly helps unwanted pounds come off more easily. However, sometimes a loss of appetite can lead to excessive weight loss and malnutrition. When this happens, the immune system, which helps the body fight off disease, can be affected. Frailty and the risk of falls can increase, and other health issues can arise.
The relationship between appetite and aging is complicated. A decline in appetite that follows a decrease in physical activity or the loss of muscle tissue is more or less expected. However, some of the causes of declining appetite are more surprising.
While it’s normal to associate aging with moving more slowly, many people don’t realize that aging causes the body to move more slowly inside as well as outside. As we age, food takes longer to move out of the stomach and into the intestines. This causes the feeling of fullness to last longer after eating. The hormones that regulate appetite also change as we age. Our bodies may not respond to these hormones as they once did. In addition, constipation can cause a loss of appetite.
Aging has also been linked to a reduction in saliva production. When this is combined with dental problems, chewing and swallowing can become uncomfortable. When this is combined with a reduction in the senses of taste and smell, making food less appealing, a decrease in appetite isn’t surprising.
Eating is not just a physical experience. It also has emotional and social aspects. Depression and social isolation can also lead to a decline in appetite.
And lastly, both certain medications and certain chronic health conditions can cause appetite to decrease.
When a loss of appetite starts affecting a person’s health or quality of life, it’s time to consult a healthcare provider. Often a good place to start is with a trip to a primary care provider. Many seniors have had the same primary care provider for years, and a strong relationship has developed. A long–term primary care provider has had the opportunity to see the patient’s health change over time and has a more informed perspective on the changes in the patient’s overall health.
Here are some tips for managing a decreased appetite:
- Eat nutrient-dense foods.
- Look for foods that can do double duty, from a nutritional perspective. Sweet potatoes, for instance, provide complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as fiber, vitamin A and potassium.
- Look for foods that are compact sources of protein, such as fish, cheese or nuts.
- If your mouth tends to be dry, rinse with mouth wash or chew sugarless gum before eating. Get in the habit of taking a sip of your drink in between bites.
- Drink nutrient-dense liquids, either a full, liquid meal or as a high-calorie drink between meals.
- Schedule your meals. If you associate certain meals with certain times, you’re less likely to skip meals. This also gives the time between meals to schedule additional snacks. This way your snacks can add nutrition to your diet, rather than removing nutrition by letting mere “nibbles” take the place of a meal.
- Plan social meals into your week. The saying, “good company makes the meal”, is particularly true for those who live alone. Whether setting up a pot luck birthday or card club meeting, or arranging dinner out with a friend, combining food and good company helps make eating an occasion to enjoy rather than a trial to endure.
- Plan your meals around foods that you enjoy. Limit foods that you don’t enjoy. The goal is to increase the pleasure of your meals so that eating is more attractive to you.
RMH Healthcare Associates: 765-932-7591