A lack of appetite in seniors at home or in senior communities is so very common. For our loved ones in quarantine, it happens even more often, and is sometimes linked to depression. Often, we tell our families to watch the inside of the refrigerator as you visit your senior loved one to be sure they are eating properly. Is the food still there from the previous days? Is there trash in the trash bin? These are signs to look for to be sure your senior is eating properly. Just as it’s normal to see a decreased appetite in seniors at this stage in their lives, it’s also now that they need healthy nutrition the most.
How To Increase Appetite in Seniors
Although there’s no treatment for loss of appetite in elderly, but there are some tricks that can help you to answer the question: "How do I get an elderly person to eat?’ According to Countrywide Healthcare, follow these tips to help your senior eat proper meals:
- Make sure there are no oral problems in your senior such as mouth sores, or difficulty in swallowing. We often hear from our clients that they prefer softer foods because they are easier on the mouth, swallowing, and digestion as well. Seeing the dentist for an overall oral exam would be a good place to start.
- Keeping on a routine with eating is important. As we age, we don’t experience the same physiological motivation to want to eat, which can result in loss of appetite in elderly, so if we create a routine to follow, the senior will experience more regularity and the caregiver can easily keep track of what the senior is eating on a daily basis.
- In senior living communities, dining is a great form of socialization for the seniors. It’s an event! When we are alone, especially eating alone, this is cause for isolation and depression. Eating in a group leads to conversation and togetherness. We also see in communities that residents who use assisted walking devices to get around, whether it be a wheelchair or walker, park those aside during meals and sit in the dining room chair. This leads to a feeling of dignity, sitting up properly for digestion, and starting the habit of looking forward to this social event each day.
- Allowing the senior to participate in their food choices is another great idea to increase seniors’ appetite. In senior living communities, we often see gardens that the residents tend to, and the chef takes the harvest from those gardens and creates a “farm to table” eating environment. One community in Chicagoland has a very large garden that a family member created, so that all of the fruits and vegetables could come from the garden to the dining room table. In communities, you often see demonstration kitchens as well. As part of the activities programming, a recipe given to the staff by a resident can be made in front of the participants, even with their assistance, and everyone gets to try the finished product. Residents may also like to participate in things such as bake sales, potlucks, and other cooking classes as part of the activities program.
- In several senior living communities, I have seen Fiesta Ware which are plates that are very brightly colored. This helps the residents see the food on the plate by having such a bold color to contrast in the background. We often hear the term to “eat the rainbow”, and in increasing appetite in elderly, the brightly colored foods are the best for them to visually see, but also the most nutritious. It’s a good idea to separate the foods on the plate too so that the senior can distinctly tell the difference between food items. Most communities change the menu daily which is good for variety. We also see now some communities are identifying various food items on the menu as gluten free, low salt, or heart healthy which is a great tool for the resident to use in order to follow a healthy diet.
- Hydration stations are a permanent staple in senior living communities these days. You walk in and see large water dispensers usually with cut up fruit inside such as strawberries or pineapples. It’s imperative that seniors stay hydrated, and this helps with overall digestion and regularity. Fruit juices and water are best to keep hydrated.
- Making dining a nice, calming experience with soft music and quiet voices will help residents to want to stay and enjoy the experience of eating. If the environment is too loud and rushed, the resident will not want to stay, may become agitated, and won’t finish their meal. Creating a pleasant environment around the dining experience will aid in the resident wanting to stay and enjoy their meal.
- If all else fails in helping the senior to increase their appetite, an appointment to the doctor may be necessary to prescribe an appetite stimulant. Remember that using appetite stimulant for elderly must be treated as a last resort when other means appeared to be failing.
In our more than 85 combined years of working in and with senior living communities, we can’t tell you how many times a family member has mentioned the weight gain in their senior loved one! This is good to hear after the weight loss we often hear about when the senior was living alone at home. Eating and socialization go hand in hand. We all need to feel socialization on a daily basis, and for seniors, that is their three meals a day enjoyed with new friends and neighbors.