For those who are older, it is not uncommon to experience a dropped interest in eating.
While this sounds unheard of to those of us who are younger and obsessed with all things “food” (many of us torment ourselves by scrolling through page after page of Instagram food posts), its is a growing danger for seniors that is too real for many of us to even notice.
It just doesn't sound like it could be a “real threat” --and that’s part of the problem.
In a survey of over 2,500 people between the ages of 70-79, over 22% described their appetites as being “poor” and less strong than it used to be.
Seniors eat smaller amounts in less frequency for a number of reasons, but regardless of the motive behind their disinterest in food, it is a matter that requires immediate attention, as it very quickly can lead to low energy, weakness and dizziness (which can lead to a nasty fall), and an overall shortened lifespan.
Here are a few reasons as to why seniors lose their appetites and how you can help.
A spike in forgetfulness
For some seniors, eating less is not a decision --but a matter of forgetfulness. As we get older, our ability to remember the small things often goes by the wayside, but in some cases one can forget something as big as “did I eat today?”.
If you have a loved one who is advanced in age who is suffering from cognition loss, keep an eye on their eating patterns. If you can get them sit down to eat on a regular schedule, you can help them get into a routine of eating, lowering the chance of them forgetting to take in a meal.
Sedentary lifestyles make it harder for seniors to build an appetite
It is common for seniors to live less active lifestyles as they get older. This lack of energy output may lead to more leisure time, but the drop of energy consumption leads to a drop in energy intake --meaning that they will have a desire to eat less. They are not moving around and burning off energy, so they may feel that there is no need to eat.
Encourage older loved ones to eat at least small meal regularly, regardless if they feel “in the mood” to eat or not. They certainly do not have to eat a lot, but a small intake of food is enough to keep them energized and healthy.
Taste buds stop regenerating after a certain age
Did you know that your taste buds begin to die after you hit a certain age? Don’t worry, there are so many on your tongue that experiencing the loss of all of them is almost impossible. However, when you hit a certain advanced age, much of the taste buds on your tongue will stop regenerating, meaning your ability to experience taste will decrease --leading to a lower interest in food overall.
While this may seem like a nightmare to those of us who are food obsessed, it is a normal occurrence that happens to a lot of people –mainly seniors. This is why seniors are often seen adding things like salt, seasonings, and other flavor enhancers to their food: it’s so that they can still enjoy a little something out of their meals.
Depression puts eating and self-care on the backburner
For those suffering from depression, it is not uncommon to experience appetite loss.
According to current and ongoing studies, about 1 in 10 seniors are suffering from symptoms of depression, one if which leads to a severe disinterest in eating. Losing the desire to eat -be it from focusing so much on pain that you don’t even notice you are hungry, to extreme cases like feeling that it isn't worth it enough to eat --is not uncommon in the elderly.
The reasons for depression in seniors can be as wide as it is for younger people who become diagnosed for depression: loss of a loved one, the feeling of being forgotten or unwanted, disappointment in not being able to live like themselves anymore... Regardless of the reason for the lingering pain and sadness, be sure that they are in fact eating regularly.
Come along side them and do more than just check in with them on the phone or in a letter. Visit with them, and give them a reason to want to take better care of themselves. The more you show you care and are there for them, the more apt they will be to tend to their bodies and be more conscious of their own health and well being.
Keep an eye on your older loved ones and keep a relationship open. The closer you are to them, the more likely they will keep a steady appetite and stay energized.
van der Meij, Barbara S. et al. "Poor Appetite And Dietary Intake In Community-Dwelling Older Adults." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2017.
Howard LeWine, M.D. "Two-Thirds Of Seniors Need Help Doing One Or More Daily Activities - Harvard Health Blog." Harvard Health Blog. 2013.
Stubbs, R et al. "A Decrease In Physical Activity Affects Appetite, Energy, And Nutrient Balance In Lean Men Feeding Ad Libitum." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004.
Feng, Pu, Liquan Huang, and Hong Wang. “Taste Bud Homeostasis in Health, Disease, and Aging.” Chemical Senses. 2014.
"1 In 10 Seniors Has Depression [Infographic] - Dailycaring." 2017.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.