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How to Boost Appetite in the Elderly

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Top Tips to Stimulate Appetite in the Elderly

When we’re young, one whiff of delicious food is all it takes to stimulate our appetites.

Unfortunately, as we age, our appetite changes and oftentimes, seniors are left struggling to meet their nutritional needs.

The foods they used to enjoy no longer sound as appealing, and aches and pains can make it harder to eat.

In this article, we're sharing our top tips and tricks to stimulate appetite, make meals more enjoyable, and meet nutritional needs.

Table of Contents

Is It Common for Elderly People to Lose Their Appetite? 

The short answer is yes. 

It is common for seniors to have a gradual decrease in appetite. For many, it’s considered normal.

Why is this?

Elderly individuals generally have lower energy levels and participate in less physical activity than they did in days gone by — which in turn means they need fewer calories than they did when they were younger.

Other reasons for a decrease in appetite in the elderly may include things such as:

  • Difficulty with chewing or swallowing 

  • The natural decline of taste buds and a reduced sense of smell, which affects the way foods taste

  • Difficulty eating with traditional silverware

  • Medical conditions

  • Side effects of medications 

  • Loneliness or depression

  • Dehydration

  • Dental issues; or

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

What Can Help Stimulate an Older Person’s Appetite? 

The tricks to stimulating appetite will vary from person to person, depending on what is causing them to experience a decrease in their appetite. 

There are many ways to help increase an your loved one’s appetite and help them enjoy nutritious meals, including:

  • Ruling out any medical issues that might be reducing their appetite

  • Providing foods that are visually appealing                            

  • Making mealtimes enjoyable social events

  • Fighting dry mouth

  • Providing plenty of easy-to-eat finger foods

  • Offering a wide variety of food options dense in nutritional benefits

  • Creating a scheduled meal routine

  • Encouraging regular snacking

  • Offering adaptive eating utensils

  • Providing drinkable meals; and

  • Ensuring they receive proper hydration throughout the day

Seniors enjoying a meal together

#1: Determine if Any Medical Issues Are Causing the Lack of Appetite

If you're wondering how to boost appetite in your loved one, one of the first things you will want to consider is ruling out the presence of any potential medical issues that might be contributing to a loss of appetite.

For example, maybe a medication is acting as an appetite suppressant or causing nausea. Are poorly fitting dentures making it painful or difficult to chew foods? 

It is also not uncommon for some over-the-counter or prescription medications to cause dry mouth. This occurs when your saliva glands don't produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist, and it can make it uncomfortable to chew your food.

Simple things such as … 

  • Chewing gum

  • Using mouthwash; or

  • Brushing your teeth

… before sitting down for a meal can help increase the flow of saliva and alleviate the effects of dry mouth. 

A recent study also revealed that umami flavors, or foods that contain a combination of …

  • Sweet

  • Salty, 

  • Sour; and 

  • Bitter

… can encourage seniors to have healthy appetites and reduce dry mouth.

#2: Maintain a Meal Schedule

Another way to increase appetite in your loved one is to have meals on a regular schedule.

When we are used to eating meals and snacks at the same time each day, our bodies will respond by triggering regular signals to let us know that it is time to eat. 

It also may be helpful for people who are struggling with a low appetite to eat a small meal every three hours throughout the day. This type of meal schedule benefits seniors in several ways, including: 

  • Reminding the body that it’s time to be nourished

  • Helping the senior consume the proper amount of calories in a day; and

  • Promoting good digestion

#3: Make Meals Aesthetically Pleasing

Think back to a favorite meal you’ve eaten recently. Chances are that the food not only tasted amazing — but was also presented in a way that made you excited to begin eating. 

Research has proven that presenting food in a way that is aesthetically pleasing can enhance the diner’s perception of the flavor of the dish — and make seniors want to eat more.

A few easy ways to make meals aesthetically enjoyable are by:

  • Serving food on colorful dinnerware, such as green plates. It has been shown that green is the last color dementia patients lose their ability to see. 

  • Choosing brightly-colored foods, such as:

    • Carrots

    • Blueberries

    • Pink grapefruit

    • Broccoli

    • Tomato

    • Mango

    • Apricot

    • Watermelon

    • Cantaloupe

    • Sweet potato

    • Winter squash

    • Pumpkin

    • Purple cabbage

    • Brussels sprouts; and 

    • Green beans

#4: Keep Portions Small in Size But High in Nutrients

Keeping the serving sizes small can prevent seniors from feeling overwhelmed by a meal— large portions can be intimidating when you're just not feeling hungry. If they feel they have to eat everything on their plate, they may become discouraged and decide to give up altogether.

In addition to decreasing portion sizes, make sure that the foods are packed with plenty of nutrients. 

Some well-tolerated foods that are also high in nutrients include things such as:

  • Peanut butter

  • Finely chopped or hard-boiled eggs

  • Avocado

  • Olive oil

  • Soft cheese

  • Greek yogurt; and

  • Finely cut meat

#5: Encourage Socialization During Meals

Turning meals into social time is a great way to increase appetite in the elderly.

We all enjoy a meal shared with friends. But if you’re suffering from a poor appetite, the idea of spending time with others can go a long way towards making mealtimes more enticing.

Things such as  … 

  • Laughter

  • Shared conversation 

  • A relaxed environment 

… will create an enjoyable atmosphere that encourages seniors to look forward to each meal.

Special details, like soft music, or candles, can make the time even more pleasant.

#6: Provide Options When Possible

Everyone loves the ability to choose. 

But your loved one may feel like they have lost their autonomy in many areas. 

Refusing to eat may sometimes be a way an older adult feels they can regain at least a small portion of control over their own lives.

Giving seniors plenty of choices between different foods — or involving them in the planning of meals, if possible, is a wonderful way to stimulate their appetites.

#7: Consider Providing Protein Shakes and Drinks

As we become older, it can be more difficult or tiring to chew solid foods.

Offering older adults a variety of liquid foods and drinks such as …

  • Protein shakes

  • Full-fat milk

  • Green smoothies made from spinach or plant-based nutritional shakes

  • Fruit smoothies made of full-fat yogurt, berries, and bananas

  • Hot cocoa

  • Nutrient-dense soups of pureed vegetables and meat, olive oil, and cream

… can help your loved one get a large portion of the key nutrients they need each day.

#8: Increase Hydration

Did you know that nearly 40% of elderly adults may be chronically dehydrated? 

Not only can under-hydration lead to increased urinary tract infections and kidney stones, but it can also play a huge factor in the loss of appetite in older individuals. 

Encouraging your loved one to drink plenty of water between meals will keep them healthy and promote a hearty appetite for food.

#9: Reduce the Need for Utensils

As we age, it is not uncommon for our fine motor skills to gradually lessen.

This can be a particular problem when it comes to managing eating utensils.  

Many senior adults may become hesitant to eat due to the frustration or embarrassment of trying to properly use a:

  • Spoon

  • Fork; or

  • Knife

Providing adaptive eating utensils may be a helpful alternative to traditional silverware.

Another way you can help stimulate your loved one's appetite is by serving finger foods that require no utensils at all, such as:

  • Raw or steamed veggies

    • Cucumbers

    • Broccoli

    • Sugar snap peas

    • Green pepper strips; and

    • Carrot strips

  • Fruits

    • Pineapple slices

    • Orange wedges

    • Berries; and

    • Banana slices

  • String cheese

  • Sandwiches

  • Peanut butter crackers

  • Cheese and crackers

  • Meatballs

  • Chicken nuggets or strips

  • Fish sticks

#10: Encourage Movement

Our final tip for how to increase an elderly person's appetite is to encourage them to stay physically active.

Physical exercise helps:

  • Promote a healthy mindset

  • Preserve range of motion

  • Increases the metabolic rate; and

  • Stimulates the appetite

Looking for a Senior Living Facility That Puts the Needs of Their Residents First? Senior Services of America Is Committed to Providing Quality Care

If you or your loved one is seeking a compassionate solution to the challenges of aging, look no further than Senior Services of America.

We offer

Our purpose each day is to provide our residents with … 

  • Nutritious meals 3 times a day

  • Quality care

  • Life enrichment; and

  • Respite services

Locate your nearest community to find out more.

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Senior Services of America

800-689-0493

1201 Pacific Avenue Suite 450 Tacoma, WA 98402 US