When Elderly Stop Eating

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Elderly eating habits - when elderly stop eating
Photo by Carlos Felipe Pardo

When Elderly Stop Eating

This is a serious issue.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 11 million, or 28% of people aged 65 and older, lived alone at the time of the last census. This number is expected to go up as the population gets older and their likelihood of living alone only increases. To add insult to injury, more older adults do not have children, reports the AARP, and that means fewer family members to provide elder care.

When elderly people stop eating or fail to take their prescribed medication, it can increase the advance of any decline they may be having. This is especially true when the elderly live alone.

The Warning Signs

As a person gets older, it is common for them to eat less as their metabolism slows down. However, there is a point, especially with elderly people, when they don’t eat enough. This can lead to malnutrition. It doesn’t matter the person’s age, a well-balanced nutritious diet is essential to a healthy life.

If you are a son, daughter, close relative or friend it can be difficult to know at what point to be concerned. There are many reasons why your elderly loved one might not be eating well.

The most important thing you can do is closely monitor their situation and take the necessary steps once you’ve identified an eating problem.

How can you tell if your loved one is not eating enough?

Keep an eye on the food in their refrigerator and pantry. You may not be responsible for buying elderly family members groceries. However, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what is in their refrigerator and pantry. If their food isn’t being eaten or replaced, it might warrant concern or conversation.

Weight loss. If your elderly friend or relative is losing weight, they are also losing fat, muscle, and body tissue. Severe weight loss can have a dramatic physical effect.

Medical. Take a trip to the doctor and ask questions. Talk to your loved one’s healthcare team about your observations and concerns. They may be able to give advice or run tests to see if your elder family member or friend is getting the proper nutrition.

What can you do to help?

5 ways to get seniors with no appetite to eat

1. Have a regular meal and snack schedule
Set up a regular daily routine with a meal or snacks at roughly the same times every day. This helps their body prepare to eat at those times. Hunger declines with age, don’t rely on your older adult’s ability to feel hugery before they need food.

2. Serve Finger Food
When an older adult is frustrated because they can not use a spoon, fork, or knife well, they may not eat as much. To help the elderly people eat more serve foods which can be eaten without any utensils.

3. Smaller Portions/High Nutrition Foods
Seniors can feel overwhelmed if they see a large amount of food on their plate. Rather than use a big plate, serve smaller portions. You may consider switching to a multiple meal routine. Your loved one can eat 4-6 small meals instead of 2-3 larger ones.

Boost the healthy calories in those smaller servings by adding:

  • Eggs
  • Avocado (high good fat)
  • Peanut
  • Soft cheeses
  • Yogurt

Unless your elderly adult has specific health issues, there is little worry about fat and/or cholesterol. The goal in this situation is to get enough calories into their body.

*Always check with a doctor for the proper nutritional balance for your elderly senior.

4. Easy-to-eat snacks
Many seniors like to graze throughout the day rather than eat a full meal. Prepare ahead of time and keep plenty of healthy, delicious, and easy-to-eat snacks.

Snack suggestions:

  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Full-fat yogurt
  • Cheese sticks
  • Diced fruit
  • Full-fat cottage cheese
  • Whole chocolate milk

5. Make milkshakes or smoothies
If your elderly senior as chewing problems consider serving more liquid-like foods.

Warning: This list is not a solution for those with dysphagia (swallowing problems).

Some suggestions:

  • Nutritious soups – enhanced with cream, olive oil, or pureed meats and veggies
  • Healthy smoothies – add bananas, fruit, full-fat yogurt, or veggies like carrots and spinach
  • Hot cocoa
  • Full-fat milk
  • Milkshakes – good quality ice cream is better than eating nothing!

Keep track of what works for your loved one. Keep notes, even before you take action. Keep track of what foods your senior enjoys, what they don’t like, and any allergies they may have. It’s a good idea to track the times of day they like to eat or have an appetite.

How Can I Stimulate Elderly Persons Appetite

  • Increase nutrient density, not portion size.  Increase the nutrient density of the foods they serve not the volume. You can often add healthy extra calories in the form of olive oil, a little peanut butter, or avocado.
  • Encourage social meals. For people of any age, simply the prospect of eating alone can reduce appetite. For seniors, accessibility and availability of social contact can be even more of a problem. Checking out the meal options at senior centers, temples/churches, and community centers, as well as meal “dates” with friends, family, or caregivers may add great benefits. Even meal delivery services can help.
  • Be aware of medication side effects, such as dry mouth. If water doesn’t taste right, try adding herbs, or sliced fruits or veggies like lemon or cucumber.
  • Consider using an appetite stimulant (ask their doctor). Some seniors have success with natural, over the counter and prescription appetite stimulants.

There are many reasons why an elderly person may stop eating. The answer is not always obvious. Its always better to step in too early, than too late. If you are not sure what to do, consult other family members and medical professionals.

Elder Care Michigan provided insight to this article.

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