If you’ve recently noticed changes in an elderly person’s eating habits, unexplained weight loss or lethargy, loss of appetite may be to blame. Refusal to eat and loss of appetite in the elderly can be a common concern that should not be ignored.
Having a nutritious diet, and eating and drinking adequately, are critical for health at any age. Seeing an elderly person refuse to eat is worrying. Here, we explain why someone may have a loss of appetite and what you can do when the elderly are refusing to eat to improve their appetite and well-being.
Reasons why an elderly person stops eating
In some cases, loss of appetite in elderly people is simply a part of growing old and requiring less energy to get through the day. Our resting metabolic rate decreases as we age, which means we require less food than we did when we were younger, causing a decline in hunger.
However, if your elderly loved one is refusing to eat or you notice signs of restrictive eating, like trouble swallowing, or sudden weight loss, there may be cause for concern.
Understanding the root cause of why an elderly person is refusing to eat or drink is crucial. There can be many reasons why an elderly person is eating less, some less obvious than others. Some reasons include:
- Dehydration – Many elderly people don’t get enough fluids and become dehydrated more easily because of age-related changes to the body or medications. This can have a knock-on effect causing appetite loss.
- Underlying illnesses – It may be that your elderly loved on has an undiagnosed medical condition such as a thyroid disorder, salivary gland problem, stroke or Parkinson’s, for example, which may affect their appetite or ability to chew and swallow.
- Forgetfulness – If your loved one is experiencing significant memory loss or cognitive decline, they may be forgetting to eat and drink.
- Lack of physical activity – Regular exercise and activity help boost appetite. Sometimes, elderly people need to work up an appetite before they can eat. Adding in some daily exercise, if only a short walk, can help to stimulate hunger.
- Food preparation – Elderly people living alone may be struggling to prepare meals. From grocery shopping to difficulty cooking or using kitchen utensils and appliances. These could all be reasons that your loved one has lost their appetite.
- Depression or loneliness – Many older adults living alone dislike mealtimes because they have nobody to eat with, intensifying their loneliness. Depression and loneliness commonly cause a loss of appetite.
- Loss of taste and smell – There are several medical conditions, and some medications, that can cause a loss of taste and smell, making food less desirable and satisfying.
- Oral health issues – Issues such as mouth and throat infections, gum disease, ill-fitting dentures or loss of teeth can affect seniors’ ability to chew and swallow their food.
- Constipation – Constipation is a common ailment amongst elders as they tend to be less physically active and are more likely to not consume enough liquids throughout the day. Constipation can also occur if there is a change in diet or changes to medications.
- Food aversion – This can happen if there are changes to the types of foods offered or meal schedules. Additionally, if an elderly loved one has recently had a big change to routine or environment such as moving to a residential care home, new foods, preparation methods, and schedules can affect their desire to eat.
Understanding why your elderly loved one is not eating
Before you can take any steps to deal with your beloved elder’s refusal to eat, it’s important to understand what is causing the problem. Are they experiencing a health problem that is affecting their appetite? Is something causing discomfort when they eat? Are they struggling with mental health issues?
Go through the checklist and be a detective in your elder’s home and daily life – ask questions, find out if anything is bothering them, observe them at mealtimes and throughout the day, assess the kitchen for suitability and involve a doctor if you suspect a health issue.
Signs of malnutrition and dehydration
Long-term appetite loss and restrictive eating can have serious implications for elderly people’s health. Involve a health professional if you suspect your loved one may be suffering from malnutrition or dehydration.
Signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Decreased muscle mass
- Light-headedness and dizziness
- Inability to keep warm
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore mouth or swollen and bleeding gums
- Recurrent infections
- Fatigue or weakness
- Bloated abdomen
Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dry skin
What to do when an elderly person is not eating
Once you have identified the reason why an elderly person is refusing to eat or has lost their appetite, you can take steps to address the issue.
Here are some tips on steps you can take:
If loss of appetite is due to a health condition it is essential to involve a health professional immediately for diagnosis, treatment and advice. Depending on the outcome you may ask for advice from the Doctor regarding side effects of the health condition or medications and suggestions on ways to tackle loss of appetite. For example, some medical conditions may require soft, easily digestible food or smoothies and liquids as meal replacements.
Kitchen suitability or issues preparing food can be solved by adapting the kitchen for elder use – appliances, kitchen layout and utensils can commonly cause problems if not adapted to suit an elder’s needs. Arranging online shopping for food deliveries can help if grocery shopping is a struggle.
If a loved one forgets to eat or has lost the motivation to prepare meals, a service like Meals on Wheels or live-in care services, like that provided by Country Cousins, can ensure an elderly person is well cared for. A professional carer supporting your loved one at home ensures there is always someone there for them for practical and emotional support. A trusted companion and someone to prepare nutritious home-made meals, all go a long way to promoting good health.
Loneliness and depression
Focus on spending more time with your loved one. Take them out for a coffee and cake or prepare a meal at home and eat with them. Get them out of the house for a change of scene – fresh air and exercise are very beneficial for low mood and a trip out can be the highlight of an elders week.
If you are unable to spend more time with your loved one, consider the benefits of home care services. Companion care is the perfect home care solution for elderly people who live alone and have no family network close by as it provides not only practical care but also emotional support.
To discover ways to help a lonely or socially isolated loved one feel better read our recent blog post here.
Bored of food, general malaise and loss of taste or smell
Growing bored of the foods one eats or not being able to enjoy the smell and taste of food can be overcome by working with your loved one to discover new foods and changing the mealtime routines. Remember that boredom around food could be due to feelings of loneliness during meal times.
Find out what their favourite childhood foods were or what foods they have enjoyed in the past but rarely eat, then seek these foods out for them to try. Try introducing small tasty snacks which can boost appetite at mealtimes. Increasing exercise and fresh air can also help to promote hunger and re-spark an interest in food.
If loss of taste and smell is an issue, use lots of herbs and spices to flavour food and consider how food can be displayed on a plate to be more visually appealing.
How home care can help support good nutrition and well-being
Home care services provide the care an elderly person needs to live well in the comfort of their home. The advantages of home care are numerous and far-reaching. For an elderly person who is experiencing weight loss and appetite loss, home care can support them to regain their strength, vitality and love of food.
A home care professional can help in many ways; from grocery shopping, preparing nutritious home-made meals, offering companionship and someone to share a meal with to practical support such as assisting with medications, cleaning the home, taking care of a much-loved pet and having someone to accompany to appointments and trips out locally.
The holistic benefits of live-in care for an elderly person living alone are often life-changing. Contact us to find out how we can support your loved one to live well at home.
How Country Cousins can help
At Country Cousins, we have been delivering compassionate and professional home care for over 60 years. We are the longest-serving introductory home care agency in the UK. This means through our skills and experience we have become experts in providing high-quality heart-felt care.
To find out how Country Cousins can support your loved one to live a happy and healthy life in the comfort of home, get in touch today. Our friendly care team is available to take your call on weekdays from 8 am to 6 pm on 01923 224706. Alternatively, complete our online enquiry form and we will be in touch very soon.