Tips for Managing a Senior Loved One’s Lost Interest in Food

Looking after a senior is a rewarding experience. There are times, however, when puzzling or unusual behaviours might present themselves. One being that the senior close to you is showing signs of a suppressed or waning appetite.

Whether you’ve noticed an empty fridge and pantry when you visit, you’ve observed them not touching meals or playing with their food, or they blatantly refuse meals and snacks — whatever the symptom, you’re sure to feel distressed and concerned. It’s hard to know where to turn, and what to do.

First, it’s important to understand why they’ve developed unusual eating habits. It’s also important to acknowledge that some seniors may slow their eating habits with age, when levels of activity naturally reduce, which means that replenishing expended energy isn’t necessary, and as such, there’s likely no cause for concern.

That said, if you perceive a loss of weight and a change in eating habits to be shocking, abrupt, and worrisome, it’s important to figure out why. Eating is a core requirement of the body, after all. Without frequent and nutritious meals, we can begin to experience malnutrition, chronic disease, and vitamin deficiencies.

This is especially problematic for seniors when a loss of weight — which equates to malnourishment — can make it challenging for the body to recover and recuperate following an illness, surgery, or injury.

Tips for Managing a Senior Loved One’s Lost Interest in Food
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Reasons for a Loss of Appetite in Seniors

There are several reasons why a senior might be turned off from food.

  • A deeper, undiagnosed medical issue. For example, viral and respiratory infections can cause a loss of appetite.
  • A side effect of a new medication may cause nausea, an upset stomach or other unappetizing and unpleasant feelings.
  • Aches and pains that cause mobility challenges, making grocery shopping difficult.
  • Financial worries.
  • A sore stomach, bloating or constipation. Each of these symptoms becomes more common as we age and digestion naturally slows down.
  • A loss of taste, smell, or vision — all of which are vital elements when it comes to enjoying a meal and appreciating the experience of eating.
  • A mental health issue — like depression.
  • Feeling uninspired and sad at the thought of dining alone.
  • A disease like dementia.
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If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with and/or is living with dementia, this could be the root of the issue. Dementia can affect your loved one’s appetite and perception of food, and it may alter their ability to chew and swallow — though this symptom generally presents during the later stages of the disease.

If a dementia diagnosis has been given, serious consideration should be put toward securing at-home help from a specialist care provider like Integracare Home Care. Here, compassionate and highly-trained Personal Support Workers and caregivers can help seniors with nutrition, counselling, meal-planning healthy and nutritious meals, grocery ordering and meal preparation — among other activities of daily living.

How to Establish the Cause

Getting to the root of the issue is key, though it can take some time.

Start the Conversation

Ask your loved one if there’s a reason there’s no food in the house or if there’s a reason they’re not eating their meals like they used to. It’s important to use open-ended questions that require some sort of response.

Start by asking how they’ve been feeling lately — you may find that this gives you all the information you need. Most importantly, don’t be too assertive here, as this may cause upset and exacerbate the issue.

Start the Conversation
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Seek Professional Medical Help

It is essential to seek medical help to rule out any underlying medical problems — like a viral infection or a thyroid issue — which could be making it uncomfortable or painful to eat, or suppressing the appetite completely. It’s also an opportunity to rule out diseases like dementia or liver or kidney disease and any sensory issues that may have caused a reduced appetite.

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Consider Mental Health

Mental health problems are a staggering, though not often discussed, issue among senior populations. In fact, depression in later life affects approximately six million Americans that are aged 65 and up. Unfortunately, only 10% of this predicted six million receive help.

Seniors may experience depression, stress, and anxiety in response to losing friends and loved ones, loss of a career, loss of independence as a response to age-related illness, as a result of sleep issues, or as a result of a depleted social life.

If you determine that extreme mental health problems are affecting your loved one’s eating habits and talking with you and other loved ones isn’t helping, professional help might be beneficial. A conversation with a family doctor and a referral to a therapist will likely prove immensely valuable.

If the Issue Is Rooted in Depression Related to Loneliness

For some seniors, the thought of cooking for oneself and eating alone can prove upsetting. This is especially true if they themselves have lost a loved one. If you establish that this is indeed the cause for their loss of appetite, and their interest in food, here are just a few options that you can try.

Often community halls, older adult associations and rotary clubs offer senior evenings with low-cost meals. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for dinner, but it’s also a great opportunity for socialization.

If a lost interest in cooking is the cause, why not suggest a meal delivery service? There are plenty of options available, whether it’s precooked meals that are delivered to the door or meal kits that require assembly.

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If you’ve learned that your loved one is living with a life-altering illness like dementia, securing at-home care (whether it’s round the clock or as respite care for you as primary caregiver) will greatly alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The Takeaway

Healthy meals and balanced nutrition are incredibly important for everyone. This is especially true for seniors who are more susceptible to illnesses, trips and falls.

By talking with your loved one to see if you can help them and by seeking professional help when necessary (whether this is from a family doctor, a therapist, or an at-home caregiver), you’ll undoubtedly get to the bottom of the problem.

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