Most often, a gradual decrease in appetite is considered a normal part of the aging process. Seniors have lower energy levels and often partake in less physical activity, which means they generally need less calories than a younger person. However, if your elderly loved one is refusing to eat and you’re noticing extreme weight loss, this can certainly be cause for concern. In fact, studies have shown that a 10% loss of overall body weight is linked to a higher mortality rate just six months after the initial weight loss.
Loss of Appetite – Causes and Symptoms
It also takes an emotional toll on a caregiver when a loved one won’t eat. And, there are a variety of reasons for appetite loss in the elderly that, as mentioned before, are perfectly normal. For instance, resting metabolic rate decreases because of reduced levels of hormones, and the elderly are often less active in their later years. Plus, changes in the senses causes food to taste differently, medication side effects, problems with dentures, or even loneliness can all be loss of appetite causes.
However, there are some instances when appetite loss is a sign of a more serious illness or condition. When seniors show no desire to eat, say they never feel hungry, or are experiencing unintentional weight loss, there may be an underlying medical reason. This is especially true if your loved one is often fatigued along with having no appetite.
The medical reasons that could be causing appetite loss in the elderly include:
- Thyroid disorders. Medications to treat thyroid issues and thyroid disorders are often associated with loss of appetite in the elderly.
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout the progression of dementia, it’s common for both weight loss and appetite loss to occur.
- Hepatitis or chronic liver disease. One of the first symptoms associated with hepatitis inflammation of the liver and chronic liver disease is loss of appetite.
- Kidney failure. It’s common for up to 25% of chronic kidney disease patients to have reduced appetites as a main symptom.
- Some cancers. In particular, ovarian, pancreatic, lung and stomach cancers are known to result in appetite loss. Plus, the pain, fatigue and other symptoms from the cancer also lead to a decreased appetite.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an irreversible and progressive decline in the ability to breathe. COPD also causes changes in hormones that are associated with a loss of appetite.
Contact a doctor if you notice your loved one has a decreased appetite that seems more severe than in the past, or if he or she is losing weight without trying.
Ways to Increase Appetite in the Elderly
Stimulating appetite in your loved one can be accomplished by utilizing a few different methods. First, enjoy a meal together or encourage your loved one to join others for a weekly lunch or dinner. Studies show that seniors who eat with others tend to eat more and make healthier food choices.
Secondly, remember that your loved one’s tastes may be changing. Try making nutritious meals that are bright, colorful and packed with vitamins and minerals. However, don’t overwhelm your loved ones with large portions, as a plate heaped with food may overwhelm them and deter them from eating altogether.
Finally, setting a schedule for eating meals makes it a routine part of your loved one’s day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks should be served at the same time throughout the day, every day of the week.