Maybe it’s happened to you: you sit down to eat dinner and find yourself thinking, “Gosh, I’m really not all that hungry.”
Loss of appetite is common among older adults, with an estimated 15-30% experiencing a significantly suppressed desire to eat. If you’re a woman, in a nursing home or hospitalized, your chances are even greater for pushing that plate away, uneaten.
Just because appetite loss isn’t unusual doesn’t mean you can just ignore it. Eating less or skipping meals altogether can lead to weight loss, which can then lead to increased chances for falls or other injuries.
That’s why you may actually need to gain weight for good health.
Making “Sense” of Loss of Appetite
Eating involves all five of your senses. But as we age, some senses become less strong and may affect appetite:
Taste – If something tastes good, we enjoy eating it. If it tastes bad, we won’t. As we age our sense of taste can lessen, making foods less appealing and causing loss of appetite and maybe even weight loss.
Smell – For many of us, our sense of smell dampens as we age, making it harder to stimulate those hunger hormones. For some people, though, you might have a more acute sense of smell. Certain odors might be so strong that food becomes off-putting, leading to loss of appetite.
Sight – First it was readers, then bifocals, then stronger prescriptions. It’s no secret that eyesight diminishes as we get older, and for some people it might affect mealtimes. Being able to see what you’re eating can make a meal more appealing, sure, but poor eyesight can also affect hand-eye coordination, making it harder to handle a fork or spoon.
Five More Reasons Why You May Experience Loss of Appetite
Taste, smell and sight aren’t the only reasons why you might have a poor appetite. Here are five M’s (Mmmmm…) to consider:
Medications – Certain medications can interfere with appetite, such as antibiotics, diuretics, anticoagulants and anti-inflammatories. If this is a concern, check with your healthcare provider.
Metabolism – Older people tend to have a slower metabolism. Having and building muscle helps speed metabolism, but as we age we are at risk for losing some of that muscle mass (a condition called sarcopenia). Exercising not only is a great way to stimulate appetite, but weight-bearing exercises in particular are good at building muscle mass.
Mobility – Your body is still capable of amazing things, but injuries or impediments such as an arthritic flare-up may make it harder to get around. That can turn grocery shopping into a chore, and you might be inclined to skip it. Resist the urge, and instead be agile by considering other ways around your obstacles. For example, you can have groceries delivered to your door, purchase pre-prepped foods such as salad mixes or frozen stir-fry veggies, or prepare meals that don’t require a lot of cutting or fork-balancing.
Mouth – Dental issues such as tooth extractions, false teeth or painful gums may make it harder to chew foods. Have you also noticed your mouth is more dry lately? That’s because older people don’t produce as much saliva (we also tend to be more dehydrated). Switch to softer foods or liquids such as soups, smoothies and nutritional drinks to get nutrient-rich calories you need to help gain weight. Also, prepare foods that are packed with flavor by experimenting with herbs and spices.
Mental Health – If you’re feeling depressed, it can be hard to muster up the desire to eat. Depression affects 1 in 10 older adults and is a common reason for skipping meals. Depression is treatable, so be sure to get screened by a qualified health professional.
How to Overcome Appetite Loss and Gain Weight for Good Health
The first thing to do if you find yourself with loss of appetite or weight loss is to rule out anything medical. Talk to your doctor or trusted health professional about possible illnesses or medications that may be hindering your hunger. Beyond that, consider some tips and tricks to work around whatever is in your way. With time and a little tweaking, you can revive your appetite and gain weight for good health.