The health of the elderly population directly depends on their nutritional status. Aging is a natural process in which degenerative changes occur in the body until we die.
These changes in body composition sometimes lead to a loss of appetite in the elderly. Therefore, most families need consultation on how to increase appetite in elderly as the loss of appetite and poor nutritional status worsens their health condition.
Comorbidity causes a rapid decline in nutritional status among the elderly. The combination of polypharmacy and chronic diseases leads to a loss of digestive, salivary, and olfactory functions of the body. Thus, any nutritional program that aims to improve appetite should take cognizance of these conditions.
What Is Appetite Dysregulation?
Appetite dysregulation is a prominent cause of loss of appetite in the older population. Let’s understand it in simpler terms.
Suppose you had breakfast in a hurry, and could not eat enough as you were getting late for work. Now, it’s quite obvious that you might end up eating your lunch in excess to compensate for the half-hearted breakfast.
This mechanism does not work properly in the elderly. The food that they eat to compensate for this deficiency is not enough. In the long run, the body adapts to this reduction, and the appetite also reduces.
Understanding The Condition
In simple terms, a central and a peripheral body mechanism regulate the appetite of an individual. These are feedback mechanisms, as they depend on the feedbacks of energy input and output for regulating appetite.
There are two types of hormones present in the gastric system that help in the functioning of the feedback mechanism.
The first are the satiety hormones that increase appetite and, the second are the satiation hormones that signal the termination of a meal. In the elderly, an increase in the latter leads to a reduction in the will to eat.
Satiety or the urge to eat a meal increases with the distension of the stomach. In old age, this distension of the fundus of the stomach reduces significantly.
Nutrient-sensing and absorption also trigger the drive to eat. However, these mechanisms are adversely affected in old age. Thus, causing inappropriate food intake.
Study Food Preferences To Increase Appetite
To design an appropriate nutrition program to increase appetite, study food preferences properly. Several studies have found that food preferences change drastically in old age. Physiological, social, and mental aspects of the body influence food preferences.
Knowing these preferences helps in motivating them to eat more. Food preferences change with the changes in the functional status and medical condition of the person.
Thus, consult the healthcare professionals to know about the possible changes in food preference. Providing them with the food of their choice will make the food more appealing.
How To Increase Appetite In Elderly
Give A Nutritious Diet
As stated before, nutrient sensing and absorption mechanisms also trigger satiety. Therefore, apart from tempting them with the food of their choice, you can think of including essential nutrients.
These nutrients can turn on the feedback mechanism in the body. With this feedback, the desire to eat more will also increase.
The following essential nutrients should be included in the diet to achieve this function:
Omega acids are essential fatty acids that regulate multiple body processes. The inclusion of natural sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help in promoting better nutritional status in the elderly.
Better nutritional status promotes satiety. You can think of the regular addition of cod liver oil in the diet as per preference.
Cases of anemia among the elderly are very common. Anemia makes a person fragile and weak. In such cases, the drive to eat declines as well. So, add the blood boosters like iron to the diet that can stimulate satiety by helping in overcoming weakness.
Protein, Vitamin D And Calcium
Proteins, vitamin D and calcium play crucial roles in the synthesis and absorption of nutrients in the body. This absorption, in turn, influences appetite.
Thus, add sufficient amounts of vitamin D and calcium sources to the diet. Increase protein intake through protein drinks, supplements, etc. to improve the nutritional status.
When a person loses appetite, then tempting them with food is the best option to motivate them to eat. Try adding seasonings and spices to it that provide a strong aroma and flavor.
The sense of taste and smell become weak in old age. So, prepare their favorite food as it will act as a strong stimulus to trigger the desire to eat.
Certain social factors influence appetite in old age. The lack of social engagement leads to geriatric depression. One of the most prominent symptoms of depression is a loss of appetite.
Encourage the elderly to eat with the family. Plan outings for them and invite their friends occasionally so that they dine together. Social inclusion is an essential part of caregiving. Sharing food and eating together is always a warm gesture.
Texture Of The Food
Avoid making food that is hard to chew and digest. Such food items give rise to apprehension among the elderly. They might fear that they cannot eat the food, or that they’ll have indigestion problems. Make food that has a soft texture and doesn’t require much effort to chew.
Give Small Portions
You cannot increase the appetite of a person suddenly. So, stop trying too hard, and do not serve them large portions of food to eat. Instead, provide smaller meals at frequent intervals so that the appetite increases gradually. Such diet plans also improve the nutritional status of the person.
Acceptance of the inevitable changes that come with aging is also necessary, loss of appetite being one of those. However, you can manage the loss of appetite to reduce misery.
Become aware of the possible reasons for this loss in appetite. It might require medical intervention. After due consultation, follow these suggestions to know how to increase appetite in elderly.
Aging will continue until we die. Bringing about detrimental changes in physiological, social, and mental aspects of life can help in coping with the adverse effects of aging.
The same logic applies to manage the loss of appetite in the elderly. Gain awareness and empathy for their condition and provide help to handle it.