As people age, a change in the appetite can be normal because the metabolism slows as does the activity level, which means the body needs fewer calories.
If meals are being skipped or poor food choices are being made, the nutrition of your loved one can suffer.
Poor nutrition can lead to undesired weight loss and jeopardize the immune system, making a senior more susceptible to infections like the common cold or even the flu, said Karen Powell, Director of Nutrition Services for American Senior Communities.
The Importance of Proper Nutrition for Seniors
There are ways, however, to stimulate the appetite, Powell said. And the benefits of proper nutrition for seniors range from increased mental capacity and higher energy levels to better resistance to illness and disease. A senior with better eating habits will feel better overall and live longer and stronger.
Some of the ways to promote healthy eating habits among seniors include:
- Increase the nutrient density, not the portion size. Large portions or a lot of different food items presented all at once can be overwhelming. For example, prepare hot cereal and soups with milk instead of water, add peanut butter to toast instead of butter or add cheese to scrambled eggs.
- Set regular eating schedules. Bodies thrive on routine. When we stray from our typical schedules the appetite is affected.
- Encourage social meals. The thought of eating alone can decrease appetite. At American Senior Communities, residents are encouraged to have meals in the dining rooms where they can socialize with others which can help improve food intake.
- Enhance smells, flavors with herbs, sauces, marinades.
- Avoid excessive liquids before or during meals. Beverages can fill us up and reduce appetite.
There are many reasons why an appetite can be decreased. If you are concerned about your loved one’s appetite, have them evaluated by their doctor to be sure there isn’t a more serious underlying cause, Powell said.
A senior may face any number of obstacles in their quest for proper nutrition. Their caregivers must be observant to their loved one’s eating habits to make sure they aren’t at risk for the health threats that come with poor nutrition.
“When a resident is admitted to an American Senior Community location, we complete a nutrition assessment that includes an interview to determine their typical eating pattern, favorite foods and is an opportunity to discuss any problems involving the appetite,” said Powell.