Dishing Up 5 Ways to Increase Seniors' Appetites
There are so many ways the human body changes with age. A gradual loss of appetite is considered part of the normal aging process. The senses of smell and taste also decline with age, which can also affect appetite, in addition to making it more difficult for many seniors to get the same amount of pleasure from their foods. Other changes, including hormonal fluctuations, increased inflammation, and decreased physical activity can all cause appetite loss in aging adults. Difficulties chewing or swallowing, medical conditions, living alone or in a nursing home, and being chair- or bed-bound can all exacerbate the problem.
Left unchecked, appetite loss can lead to malnutrition and an increase in health issues. Thankfully, there are strategies caregivers can employ to tempt their loved one’s taste buds and ensure they're eating healthy. Try one of these five ways to boost senior nutrition while stimulating your aging parents' appetites.
Try Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Eating healthy meals doesn't require three meals per day or large portions. For seniors struggling with appetite loss, eating four to six small meals can be more palatable. Try to add nutrient-dense foods to every meal or snack, which lets you keep the portions small while enhancing nutrition and giving seniors a calorie boost. A few ideas to round out those smaller meals include:
- Incorporate heart-healthy fats like avocado and peanut butter
- Use plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries as a dessert or snack
- Add veggies and cheese to a half a sandwich on whole grain bread
- Try protein shakes and smoothies made with fresh fruits, veggies, yogurt, nut butters and/or low-fat dairy
Timing Is Everything
Try to figure out the time of day when your senior's appetite is the strongest and plan meals and snacks around that time. For example, many older adults have a greater appetite in the morning and afternoon and a lesser appetite during the evening hours. In this case, it makes sense to have a larger breakfast and lunch, with a snack between and a lighter supper. It might also help to keep seniors on a schedule that has them eating at the same time every day. Hunger signals tend to be strongest when they're anticipated, which is why sticking to a mealtime schedule can be effective.
Make Mealtime Fun
For aging parents, social isolation can be a major factor in causing appetite loss. Research suggests that eating alone is associated with the risk of under-nutrition and lower dietary variety. Make mealtime a social time by eating with your seniors when you can and arrange for other family members, friends, and neighbors to break bread with them when possible. You could check with your local senior center to find additional resources. You can also make mealtime more fun by playing seniors' favorite music while they eat.
Get Your Aging Parents Moving More
Increasing physical activity levels can help boost your parents' appetites, making it easier to get them eating healthy foods. Light activity including walking around the block a few times, having a brief dance party, or even light housework can help increase the appetite.
Focus on Nutrient-Rich Foods
When people don't have much of an appetite, they often turn to the wrong foods to try to gain a little weight. Candy, cookies, ice cream are all examples of empty calories that may boost the daily calorie count but won't nourish the body or improve senior nutrition. Incorporating more nutrient-rich foods into meals and snacks will help seniors get the protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates they need. Examples include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Beans, nuts, and seeds
- Lean proteins such as chicken, eggs, and fish
- Whole grains including brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat
- Low-fat milk and cheese or dairy alternatives such as fortified almond or soy milk