Seniors are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition for a number of reasons -- some simple, others more complex. Whatever the reason, malnutrition is a serious issue for older Americans with one out of every four suffering from inadequate food intake.
There's no better time to take a closer look at your aging loved one's eating habits and nutrition than during March's National Nutrition Month. Let's highlight four common causes of appetite loss among older adults, along with techniques for increasing senior appetites.
Brightly colored foods can help stimulate the eyes and the appetite.
1. Physiological Changes
As human bodies age, our basic metabolic rate slows. When coupled with reduced physical activity, this can lead to a decrease in appetite. If your aging loved one is healthy and getting enough to eat, this is fine.
In some cases, lack of appetite in the elderly is linked with more serious health conditions, ranging from dental hygiene and gastrointestinal issues to cancer, thyroid disorders, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.
If your loved one exhibits any inexplicable changes combined with unexpected weight loss, check with a healthcare provider who can help identify underlying causes. A physician may also prescribe an appetite stimulant, if appropriate.
2. Changing Taste Buds
Taste buds can grow dull with age. Some medications lead to side effects which can alter taste, change smell, and lead to dry mouth. While all of these factors can interfere with appetite, there are some simple ways caregivers can help. Chewing sugarless gum, for example, helps prevent dry mouth while frequent teeth brushing enhances taste sensation.
Helping seniors with meal prep lightens their load and encourages eating.
Another easy way to promote eating among seniors? Make meals as appetizing as possible. The saying absolutely holds true that we "eat with our eyes."
3. Loneliness and Depression
Eating meals alone can diminish the ability to enjoy food. For seniors who live alone, as well as for those who are suffering from depression, this can be particularly problematic.
Explore opportunities for social meals in both formal and informal settings. For example, many senior centers, community centers, and churches offer meals for seniors.
Setting up regular "dates" with family members, friends, and neighbors can further boost your aging loved one's appetite.
Look into meal delivery services in your aging loved one's area that provide services for seniors.
4. Declines in Ability and Inclination
Changes in your aging loved one's capabilities and mental state can also directly interfere with their nutritional intake. Perhaps they no longer have the stamina to cook or lack the mobility to get around the kitchen or to the store. In other cases, seniors may simply lose interest in cooking or be facing financial difficulties.
Helping your aging loved one with shopping, keeping the pantry stocked, and taking over meal planning and preparation can take the struggle out of the process and free them to enjoy eating again. Additionally, many local agencies offer services for seniors living on limited incomes.
Social eating is a proven appetite booster.
One last thing to keep in mind. Hydration is a critical part of ensuring senior health. In addition to encouraging your aging loved one to drink plenty of water, liquids like soup, Popsicles, juice, smoothies, and milk can all help ensure that your aging loved one is getting enough fluids.
Waning appetite and thirst are often a natural part of the aging process. Identifying and treating malnutrition is critical. March's National Nutrition Month offers the perfect opportunity to check in with your aging loved one in order to promote healthy, happy eating habits.
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