Top Tricks To Stimulate Appetite In The Elderly

The common ailments of aging often lead to decreased appetite. This guide will help you try to identify the potential causes as well as provide you with some tips and tricks to stimulate appetite in the elderly. You’ll also learn how to increase the nutrient intake of the food they will eat.

nurse feeding elderly woman an orange
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For any person to stay healthy and strong, you need to eat a healthy and balanced diet. You need to consume enough calories, vitamins, and minerals to keep your bodily functions working well and efficiently. Importantly, you need ample energy to combat any illnesses that may arise.

Unfortunately, for many seniors, eating is a struggle. Loss of appetite is quite common among the elderly, which puts a strain on their health. Naturally, this is a concerning situation, and should it persist it is a cause for alarm.

But you should not accept a situation where your loved one has severe loss of appetite, just because it is a common phenomenon among seniors. Since there are ways to stimulate appetite in the elderly, you ought to help your loved one regain their appetite back.

Below I will explore the topic of appetite loss among seniors with a focus on on helping understand the steps you can take to help you or a loved regain their appetite.

Reasons Why Seniors May Not Want To Eat

Even before we delve into tips on stimulating appetite in the elderly, you must learn and understand the reasons why they lose their appetite in the first place. There are numerous reasons seniors lose their appetite. And in most cases, a combination of factors contribute to the loss, rather than a single factor. Common causes of appetite loss among seniors, include:

  • Changes in taste bud or sense of smell
  • Slowing metabolism
  • Decreased energy needs
  • Gastrointestinal changes
  • Difficulties in chewing and/or swallowing
  • Dehydration
  • Medical conditions such as mouth and throat infections, dementia symptoms, depression and loneliness, etc.
  • Medication side effects (for instance, dry mouth)
  • Dental issues that affect the eating experience

As you can appreciate, there are many ways a senior might lose their appetite. You should discuss your suspicions with your loved one’s doctor or nurse.

elderly ladies enjoying a nice lunch together

Top Tricks To Improve Appetite Among Seniors

If you want to stimulate your appetite or help your loved one get their appetite back, consider using the following tricks.

1. Create A Routine

If your senior loved one does not have an eating schedule already, it is time to set up one. The goal of an eating schedule is to create a routine; you want them to eat at the same time every day. This approach to eating will train their bodies and minds to get used to eating at a particular time of day. Soon enough, they will be looking forward to the meals.

2. Encourage Social Meals

Eating alone is depressing and one can lose their appetite pretty quickly. Unfortunately, many seniors are prone to eating alone, owing to mobility issues. If possible, try and provide them a means of getting social meals. For instance, encourage them to take up social meals such as those available in senior centers, churches, and community centers.

3. Opt To Increase Nutrients Without Increasing Portion Size

Many seniors are overwhelmed by large portions, which discourages them from eating in the first place. To overcome these issues, consider providing your elderly loved one smaller portion rather than the typical large-sized portions.

An even better option is to switch the senior to a 5 meal routine (obviously, with smaller food portions) rather than the typical 3 large meals. This allows the senior to consume the required daily caloric intake to stay healthy without straggling.

Importantly, however, you should ensure the smaller meals pack ample nutrients. As such, look for meals cooked with nutrient-dense ingredients and vitamin-packed high protein foods for the elderly to provide them with as many healthy calories as possible.

For instance, you can add the following foods to their smaller meals:

  • Olive oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado
  • Soft cheese
  • Finley chopped eggs and meats

As a caregiver, you can cook the food in large batches to save time. Just serve in smaller portions.

daughter enjoying snacks with her elderly father
Make meal time easy and fun with finger foods and social engagement.

4. Encourage Finger Eating

A pair of shaky hands or loss of coordination makes using utensils daunting, and in some cases, impossible. Given that the goal is to encourage your elderly loved on to eat, why not get rid of this barrier? Why not negate the frustration of being unable to cut food with a fork and knife?

As such, serve your elderly loved foods that they can eat with hands. For instance, serve them:

  • Fish sticks
  • Chicken nuggets or strips
  • Meatballs
  • Raw or steamed vegetables such as us cucumber, carrots, broccoli, etc
  • Sandwiches
  • Fruits

Any type of food they do not need to use utensils will stimulate their appetite.

5. Encourage Easy-To-Eat Healthy Snacks

Given that you will most likely switch to a higher number of meals consisting of smaller meal portions, you need to have plenty of easy-to-eat healthy snacks for the elderly on hand to complement their meals. Whenever they crave snacks, you ought to provide it to them as it adds to the overall food intake.

Examples of healthy snacks include:

  • Full-fat yogurt
  • Cheese sticks
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Whole chocolate milk, etc

6. Drink Your Meals

In cases where chewing is a problem, serving your beloved elderly, a smoothie, or a milkshake will suffice in helping them attain adequate nutrients intake.

As such, avail to them healthy drinks, including:

  • Full fat milk
  • Healthy milkshakes
  • Healthy smoothies with a mix of notorious veggies and fruits
  • Nutritious soups, consisting of pureed veggies and meat, cream, olive oil, and other foods

This is a great way to provide easy to swallow nutrition for the elderly.

various fruit smoothies in glass cups
Fruit smoothies are easy to make, delicious, and pack lots of nutrients in a small glass.

7. Exercise

Another means you can stimulate appetite in seniors is to engage them in physical activities. As mentioned above, the decreased need for energy and a lower metabolic rate can suppress the appetite among the elderly. To counter these two factors, you should engage the senior in safe exercises for seniors.

Physical activities will increase their energy need, thereby increasing the hunger feeling as well. Exercises have an added benefit of increasing the metabolic rate among the elderly, which can stimulate their appetite.

8. Consider Taking Appetite Stimulants

As a last resort measure, you can suggest taking appetite stimulants. In severe cases of appetite suppression, an appetite stimulant might be the only solution. However, you need to consult his or her physician. Appetite stimulants are typically prescription medications, and they may not be compatible with other medicines they may be taking.

9. Other tricks you could try include:

  • Counter dry mouth by providing lots of fluids
  • Focusing on what works to stimulate their appetite
  • Provide them with soft food choices that are easy to chew
  • Allow the senior to choose the meals they crave and like

Final Word

While it is expected for the appetite to deep among the elderly, there are things you can do to counteract this situation. Follow the trick and tips provided above to stimulate the appetite of an elderly loved one. Of course, take any food allergies into account and discuss dietary changes with their doctor before implementing these tips.

Do you know of other tips and tricks to stimulate appetite in the elderly? Tell me more in the comments below!

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About Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS® 357 Articles
Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather
I am a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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