Aging is an inevitable part of life for you and your loved ones—and with aging, you may experience body changes and new symptoms that arise, such as aging appetite loss. Aging appetite loss is a common condition where older adults may lose their desire to eat.
Dealing with your own aging appetite loss, or dealing with an older loved one who is struggling with appetite loss, can take an emotional toll. It’s important to remember that there are many different causes of loss of appetite in elderly adults—from feeling socially isolated to having difficulty making meals independently.
Loss of appetite in older adults is not a cause of panic, however, if you’re experiencing old age and loss of appetite, keep reading to learn more about potential causes, concerns, and a few ways to boost your appetite.
While you may be quick to worry that something is wrong when you or someone you know is dealing with the loss of appetite in your 60s and beyond, it’s first important to remember that a gradual decrease in appetite alongside aging is actually normal.
In fact, between 15% and 30% of older people are estimated to experience aging appetite loss, with rates higher in women, nursing home residents, and hospitalized older adults.
What causes loss of appetite in the elderly? There are a few reasons:
Although there are a variety of reasons that contribute to aging appetite loss, remember that it’s largely subjective. All individuals are different—and a loss of appetite in older adults varies greatly depending on the individual person. Because of this, it’s not always easy to pinpoint one exact reason correlated to aging and appetite loss.
Wondering what causes loss of appetite in aging and elderly people? From lifestyle changes to mental and behavioral shifts, you or an older loved one may experience appetite loss for a myriad of different reasons. The following are some examples of common causes for age and appetite changes.
Dehydration is one of the top causes of low appetite in elderly individuals. It occurs when there is an excess loss of fluid in the body, and may be caused by illness, exposure to high temperatures, certain medications, or excessive sweating.
The elderly population is particularly at risk for dehydration. Although drinking enough water is a concern for everyone, senior citizens are particularly prone to underhydration and dehydration. One study estimated that up to 40 percent of community-dwelling elderly people may be chronically underhydrated. Severe dehydration can cause life-threatening infections and a plethora of other health problems in older adults and it currently accounts for a five percent increase in preventable emergency room visits between 2008 and 2012.
When an older adult is dehydrated, they often experience a loss of appetite. To adequately support the body’s overall health and stay hydrated, make sure you’re trying plenty of fluids every day—even when you don’t think you need them. You can also stay hydrated by eating water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, lettuce, cucumbers, and oranges.
As we age, it’s entirely normal to experience large-scale changes in routine. Whether you’re a caretaker of an elderly adult or you’re a senior yourself, our bodies and our routines change in our golden years—and that’s perfectly okay.
Once you reach your retirement years, you might have a lot more free time on your hands. You might spend more time reading books or playing card games with your friends. You might not exercise quite as much—farewell to your daily commute!—or you might slow down and take in all of life’s little joys.
However your routines have changed with age, your meal patterns and your exercise habits have likely shifted as well. If you don’t have a set routine anymore, it can cause a loss of appetite—as well as uncertainty or confusion.
To combat a lack of appetite in elderly individuals, set a regular meal schedule. Our bodies thrive on regularity—and so if you’ve spent decades of your life eating lunch at the same time but now you sleep later and eat much later, your body might struggle to catch up. Activate your body’s hunger and thirst signals by setting a regular schedule and sticking to it.
If you’re helping a loved one with a loss of appetite and aging, you can start this process slowly. Provide a beverage or a snack at your scheduled mealtime, even if your loved one says they’re not hungry. This can help activate the body’s hunger and thirst signals, and eventually, they may feel their appetite returning.
For any seniors who have suffered from unpleasant mealtimes, this might further the loss of appetite in elderly individuals.
Another common cause of loss of appetite in seniors is a lack of exercise. As you age, your energy needs shift quite a bit—and as you undergo a lower metabolic rate and less physical activity, your body will likely decide that it needs fewer calories.
A lot of older people lose fat mass as they age with skeletal muscle decreasing at a rate of 1% per year after hitting your 70s. At that age, many seniors became physically inactive and this may be coupled with a loss of appetite. Getting regular exercise increases the amount of energy that your body burns—and this can result in your body desiring more food.
Partaking in gentle exercise as a senior can help boost hunger levels. Even just a leisurely daily walk can help get the body moving. If you’re caring for a loved one who is struggling with aging and loss of appetite, consider accompanying them on a short walk or even participating in a group exercise class together. This can go a long way in helping your loved ones regain their appetite.
The process of aging is accompanied by a lot of physiological changes within the body—such as changes in taste, smell, and digestion—all of which can contribute to a lack of appetite in elderly individuals.
For example, the smell of delicious food stimulates the appetite while taste helps you enjoy the food and further stimulates the appetite during mealtime. If you’re an older person with an impaired sense of smell and taste, you might not enjoy your meal as much—and this can lead to a decrease in your appetite as you age.
Additionally, being able to see your meal and take in the beautiful colors is also said to stimulate the appetite. However, with one in five seniors over the age of 75 experiencing visual impairment, this can also be connected to aging appetite loss.
Poor oral health can also make it increasingly difficult to eat normally for many seniors. Although all of these changes with age are normal, not all seniors will experience the exact same shifts throughout the aging process. It all depends on your individual genetics, your environment, and your overall health.
As you age, you might experience some activities that you’re not able to perform like you once could, including difficulties with independent eating and cooking. For seniors who live on their own and feel challenged or overwhelmed by independent eating and cooking, it can lead to an overall loss of motivation, which can be connected to aging and appetite loss as well.
Additionally, if you live alone, you may miss the social elements of sitting down with loved ones and enjoying a meal together. This lack of social interaction while eating can make eating a lot less pleasurable than it once was, leading to loss of appetite in older adults.
Although depression is a mental disorder negatively impacting how you feel, it has a number of physical manifestations—including a loss of appetite in older adults.
Depression is considered to be one of the psychological and social effects of aging, as appetite is influenced by mood and environment. When an older adult is dealing with depression, they are less likely to eat. Approximately 9% of community-dwelling older people—those who live independently outside of nursing homes—are reported to have depression, as are 24% of older inpatients.
Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are both incredibly common—and can cause multiple health risks, including a decrease in appetite. More than one-third of adults aged 45 or older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.
Changes in the environment can influence loneliness in older adults, especially if they are living alone at home, living in a care home, or even staying at a hospital. In those cases, poor appetite and loneliness can increase as well.
As your body changes physically with age, there is a likelihood that medications will be used as a way to manage these changes as well as illnesses or diseases. Many medications, unfortunately, tend to have side effects that can contribute to aging appetite loss.
Some medications can also impair your taste, sense of smell, and even cause nausea, all of which can reduce the appetite of an older adult. Some of these medications include antibiotics, heart failure medication, thyroid medication, antidepressants, diuretics, and migraine medications. If you’re wondering if your medication is causing you to experience appetite loss, consult your healthcare practitioner for more information.
There are several medical conditions associated with aging appetite loss—from thyroid disorders to dementia.
Thyroid disorders often refer to medical conditions that prevent your thyroid from making the right hormones. Hypothyroidism, for example, is very common in elderly patients, affecting as many as 17 percent of older adults with women impacted more than men.
If you or a loved one suffers from a thyroid disorder, there are medications on the market that help alleviate many of the symptoms. Unfortunately, however, causes of appetite loss in elderly individuals may be linked to thyroid medications. In particular, medications like carbimazole and propylthiouracil have been reported to cause appetite loss in older individuals.
Poor oral health, such as mouth and throat infections and disease, becomes more common in individuals as they get older due to the physical effects of aging and body changes. When it comes to dealing with a loss of appetite in your 60s, you may experience mouth and throat infections or diseases. In fact, one-third of people over the age of 65 have reduced saliva production which could make it difficult for them to eat.
As with any other infection or disease of the body, medications are often used as a treatment to subside the severity of their effects. Some medications, however, may come with side effects that result in appetite loss in older patients.
Another common cause of aging and appetite loss is dentures. If you or your loved one has dentures that don’t fit properly, this can be a factor impacting difficulties eating or maintaining an appetite.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two conditions that greatly affect memory and other important brain and behavioral functions in the elderly. Watching an older adult close to you go through this disease is not easy, and for some, it may play a role in appetite loss as well.
The prevalence of dementia globally is reported to be as high as 24 million and by 2050, it is predicted to increase by 4 times. Some patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease may lose certain functions like their ability to swallow or sustain their normal eating habits. When not managed or monitored properly, dementia or Alzheimer’s can lead to appetite loss and weight loss. Additionally, food preferences, eating habits, and eating behaviors may change, all of which are common symptoms associated with the two diseases.
Kidney and liver disease are two diseases that can greatly impact two important parts of your body when it comes to eating normally. Kidneys are responsible for removing waste from the food that we eat, and the liver is responsible for breaking down fats and carbohydrates to store them for later use.
When kidney or liver disease affects an older adult, they may experience a series of physical and emotional challenges that can take a toll on their appetite. During the early stages of kidney disease, for example, compounds build up in your blood which can affect your sense of taste. The foods that you eat may start to taste a lot different and—combined with symptoms like weakness, nausea, and vomiting—an appetite is a lot harder to maintain.
The same goes for the symptoms of liver disease. Studies find that liver volume decreases by 20-40% as one gets older. When combined with the side effects of medications to treat both diseases, the side effects will only continue to make it harder to feel the need to eat.
Whether you’re dealing with an older loved one who is battling cancer or has in the past, you’re likely familiar with the toll that cancer and its treatment can take on the body. Cancer is a public health problem in the United States, with 27% of patients diagnosed with cancer over the age of 65.
Strong treatments and medications are a standard part of the process and can include a number of changes in eating behaviors and loss of appetite. Ovarian, stomach, and lung cancer are just a few examples of cancers that can cause appetite loss. Additionally, through the process of undergoing chemotherapy or related treatments, nausea, pain, and stress are common side effects that can trigger appetite loss as well.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that greatly affects the central nervous system. Although most people are diagnosed with MS between the age of 20 and 50, late-onset MS is also possible.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include numbness or weakness, blurry vision, fatigue or dizziness, and problems with bowel or body function. Many individuals suffering from MS experience appetite loss with aging. This is likely related to cognitive impairment—but it can also be caused by stress, weakness, difficulty swallowing, and a range of other physical and mental effects of the disease.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to a family of diseases that make it difficult to breathe or cause blockages in the airway of the lungs. This includes both bronchitis and emphysema, two of the most common types of disease that affect older adults.
The shortness of breath, inflammation, and chronic coughing side effects and symptoms of this disease causes fatigue and pain, making it hard for an older individual to eat or even want to eat. Often, patients with this disease will unintentionally lose weight which can lead to malnutrition or loss of muscle mass, two crucial components to maintaining optimal health at an older age.
Are you concerned about aging appetite loss, either for yourself or for a loved one? Remember that a bit of appetite loss in older adults is considered normal, as seniors don’t require the same amount of calories as young adults do—and as a result of any newfound routines and habits in their retirement years, they may simply not need to eat as much as they once did.
However, there are some cases where the drastic changes in appetite and weight loss may be a cause for concern and a sign of a larger medical condition. If there’s a loved one in your life dealing with appetite loss and you are concerned that their appetite loss is far beyond what is considered “normal” for their age, it’s vital to consult with your doctor and healthcare practitioner.
Your doctor will help you rule out any severe medical issues—but they can also help you get access to the proper treatments, such as new strategies to boost your appetite or even appetite stimulants.
There are some ways to improve appetite loss and nutrition, especially once you’ve gained some clarity on what may be causing appetite loss in an older loved one. After all, the loss of appetite as you age is an entirely natural process that comes with lifestyle changes.
If you’re looking for some ways to improve appetite loss and nutrition for yourself or a loved one, here’s how:
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