Senior Living Q & A: A senior's loss of appetite

Q. My mom’s appetite has decreased lately and she is losing weight. What can I do to get her to eat more?

A loss of appetite is very common in the senior community. Caregivers must be aware of their loved one’s eating habits to ensure nutritional requirements are being met.

Medications alter a body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, and also impair its natural process of excreting minerals. While this explains noticeable physical side effects to medication, another issue is the alteration of taste and smell that drugs may cause.

Many medications, and certain medical conditions themselves, contribute to appetite loss in seniors simply by lessening the senses which cause food cravings. Some medications make foods seem bland and unattractive, while others may prolong the “full” feeling, decreasing a loved one’s temptation to eat.

Sometimes an aging loved one has chewing and swallowing difficulties. This can be a result of dentures that fit poorly, or other issues with their teeth, natural or false, that prevent easy chewing/swallowing. A loved one may be embarrassed to say anything about it — or, more common, not even realize that is the issue.

Many seniors live alone and thus are left to eat meals solo. They also are prone to eat unhealthy meals, lacking the energy or care to prepare food. Offer a loved one an invitation to be a part of the family whenever possible.

Many seniors suffer from a loss of appetite attributed to nothing more than the inability to access healthy food. A simple weekly ride to the grocery store can be a quick fix.

Have her eat small portions. Many people may not have the desire to eat three substantial meals each day. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat when hungry. Fresh fruits, vegetables, crackers and cheese, yogurt, or a bowl of soup are all good options.

Nutritional supplements should be used with extreme caution, and only at the recommendation of a physician. At any age, exercise is important; and it’s easy to drift away from daily stretching as we age. But it’s just as important at 80 as at 8 years old. Moderate strength training will increase metabolism, thus appetite.

A loss of appetite in a loved one can be a very simple problem such as loneliness, with a quick fix by offering companionship. It also can suggest a more complicated issue such as medication side effects, which require more creative solutions. As a caregiver, it’s important to take notice when a loved one starts turning down their favorite bowl of ice cream.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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