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Tips for helping with elderly loss of appetite

It’s common to experience elderly loss of appetite, but this can lead to health issues.

December 14, 2022

Elderly person cooking a meal

Older people can often start to lose their appetite. Sometimes this can be down to an illness, but often there is no obvious cause. Maintaining a healthy weight in older age is very important because being underweight can result in some serious health problems.

In this article, we look at why being a healthy weight matters in later life and have compiled some tips to help older people get the nutrition they need, with assistance from loved ones.  

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Sudden loss of appetite in elderly

If you have an older loved one who has suddenly lost their appetite, when they normally have no such issues, it’s important to seek medical advice to rule out any serious health concerns. There are many reasons or conditions that can cause someone to lose their appetite or cause changes to the way things might taste, including potential side effects to some medications.

It’s important that if there is a health-related reason for the elderly person having a reduced appetite, it’s investigated properly by medical professionals.


Common reasons for elderly eating problems

If any health concerns or medication side effects have been ruled out but the lack of appetite continues, there are other potential reasons for this. These include:

Forgetting to eat – Short term memory can be something that many older people struggle with, even if they don’t have a condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Forgetting whether or not they have eaten can lead to weight loss in the elderly.

Dehydration - Many older adults don’t get enough hydration on a regular basis, which can result in reduced appetite.

Changes to taste buds or sense of smell – It’s common for the ability to detect flavours by taste or smell to reduce in later years, which can result in eating becoming less enjoyable.

Inconsistent routine – When someone usually eats at around the same times each day, the body will usually increase the feelings of hunger at these times. When someone isn’t in that kind of routine for meals, it can mean they don’t always feel hungry at standard mealtimes.

Preparing meals can sometimes be challenging – If your older loved one is finding cooking and preparing meals more challenging than they used to, perhaps due to more limited mobility, arthritis pain in their hands or other common issues for the elderly, this can sometimes result in them not eating as often as they should.


Why is keeping a healthy weight in old age important?

There is always lots of coverage in the media about the dangers of being overweight. While this is something that certainly can lead to lots of health problems, the potential problems associated with being underweight in later life shouldn’t be underestimated either.

Being underweight in old age can have potentially serious implications. It can increase the risk of fracturing bones in the event of a fall or another accident. It can make a fall more likely in the first place if someone feels a little weak or dizzy due to not eating enough. It can also weaken the immune system and make the older person less able to fight off infections. Another issue with not eating enough of the right things can be deficiencies in certain nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are essential for staying as healthy as possible in later years.


Senior lady in her kitchen

Tips for improving elderly eating habits

If an elderly person is losing weight due to reduced appetite, some tips that could be worth trying include:

Change up the usual eating routine

If having three larger set meals is proving too much, consider splitting into several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. This change of routine can be challenging for some older people who like to stick to their usual daily habits, but this can be a good way to take in more calories and to balance the nutrition more easily to make sure they are getting all the vitamins, minerals and food groups in their diet.

Give reminders about eating at certain times

If forgetting to eat is a reason why your elderly loved one is losing weight or not getting the proper healthy nutrition they need, giving them reminders can be useful. If you aren’t there in person, there are some other solutions that can help, including smart technology that’s great for older people. With something like a smart speaker, you can set alarm reminders to prompt your loved one to make or eat a meal at set times.

Try some new foods and recipes

There’s a stereotype that the older generation aren’t usually adventurous when it comes to trying new foods and flavours, but that’s definitely not the case with all people in later life. If the reason for not eating so much is that food doesn’t seem to taste as good as it used to, trying things they’ve never eaten before can give them a whole new approach to meals.

Cooking or preparing meals together and trying new recipes can be a great way to renew your older loved one’s relationship with eating, while spending some quality time with one another.

Prepare lots of snacks that can be eaten whenever the mood strikes

If one of the reasons for not eating enough is that preparing food is more difficult than it used to be, pre-preparing some healthy snacks can be a good way to help ensure that your older loved one always has something tasty and nutritious to hand when they do feel peckish. Some great healthy eating options include:

  • Raisins
  • Chopped carrots
  • Nuts
  • Fruit slices
  • Yogurt pots
  • Pre-cut cubes of cheese
  • Cocktail sausages

Having these snacks in the fridge and ready to go also means that cutlery isn’t needed, and the washing up is minimal, which can be ideal for many older people.

Elderly couple with healthy snacks

Make favourite meals more calorific

If your older loved one prefers to stick to meals that they know well already, one way to help combat weight loss is to make sure these meals contain as many calories as possible (and it also often makes them taste even better). Examples of this include adding butter or cream when cooking and incorporating cheese into meals when it’s appropriate.

Use a monitoring system to help track elderly eating habits

If the older person lives independently, on their own, and could potentially be forgetting to eat, there are elderly smart home monitoring systems available that can raise an alert if their eating routine isn’t as it should be. Designed to be very inobtrusive and maintenance-free, a system like this can have a sensor set up for the fridge and kettle, so it can tell when these appliances are being used or not. If these is an issue, an alert can be sent out to nominated family members or friends to check on the elderly person.

Advice about home monitors

If you would like any more information on our home monitoring systems, get in touch with our Independent Living Advisors on 0800 085 7371. Lines are open Monday to Saturday, 8am - 5pm.

Freephone 0800 085 7371

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

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