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Loss of Appetite in the Elderly

Loss of Appetite in the Elderly

With summer in full swing, our thoughts often turn to enjoying days out and especially picnics in the park or garden.  For many of us, this is a happy experience but what about those who look after elderly relatives or residents who have minimal appetites? This can be extremely upsetting and worrying and may make what should be a happy event turn into an unsettling and frustrating time for all concerned.

There may be a number of reasons behind why someone older has a reduced appetite. These can be:

  • Teeth or denture discomfort. Check that dentures are fitted correctly and there is no decay causing pain. Solid foods can be difficult to chew and swallow so stick to softer foods and extra healthy drinks like whole milk and fruit juices.
  • Medication can cause appetite to be suppressed. If this is so, check with the GP to see if an alternative medication can be found.  Try to make small portions of food as highly calorific as possible. Include whole milk and cream where possible. Use olive oil and smooth peanut butter in salad dressings etc.
  • Depression and loneliness can often be the cause of appetite loss.  Older people living on their own often ‘can’t be bothered’ to cook nutritious meals for themselves. Try to encourage them to join a day club or community centre several times a week for lunch. Meals will be healthy and inexpensive and often include an activity afterwards. If this isn’t an option, try to visit regularly and maybe cook something together or go out for a pub or garden centre lunch.
  • Illness can greatly affect eating habits, especially those who have a dementia. They may forget to go shopping – or even how to shop. Preparing and cooking food may be highly problematic and therefore stressful.

Older people are often susceptible to malnutrition, leading to muscle loss, decreased bone mass and wounds may take longer to heal.

Meals that can be helpful are:

  1. Ready to eat cereals – quick and easy to prepare with the minimum of fuss.
  2. Ready prepared soups – especially those with chunks of meat and vegetables. Try and include a nice soft roll or slice of bread.
  3. Casseroles are soft to chew and nutritious.
  4. Brightly coloured berries and vegetables can often induce appetite.
  5. Use colourful bowls and plates – especially for those with poor eyesight or a dementia. Try to use a contrasting colour to the food itself to help locate the food.
  6. Don’t forget good old baked beans. These are tasty, very nutritious and easy to prepare. They can also be a good base to add other vegetables and meats if available.

For more help and advice go to www.alzheimers.org.uk under 'Eating and Drinking'.

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