Overcoming Loss of Appetite

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Family caregivers deal with issues that are both common and perplexing when caring for an aging parent or relative. One of these issues is their loved one’s loss of appetite. Loss of appetite is common among older people. Partly this is a natural occurrence because as our bodies age, we don’t need as much food to keep us going. But sometimes loss of appetite is caused by other factors like illness, disease, wear and tear on the digestive system, and even loss of control or depression.

One primary reason for a change in appetite is the loss of taste or smell. As we age, our taste buds change over time. Foods we did not like as children we might develop a taste for when we are older. Tomatoes were like that for Betsy. She hated tomato sandwiches as a girl, and now they are a favorite treat.

Conversely, if your aging loved one enjoyed a food when they were younger, but now they say it has no flavor, you might try adding a little spice or some herbs to pump up the taste. I’m not suggesting you salt everything well, because that’s not a good idea! But try a little curry powder or add raisins or chopped dates to raise the sweetness naturally. If a texture is a problem as well, you could add some nourishing soups made with coconut milk, which adds both protein and fat. Here’s a link for some recipe suggestions using coconut milk.

Older adults might also resist eating if medical conditions cause unpleasant physical problems like digestive discomfort or socially unacceptable results like passing gas. They may also decide they want to die as Betsy’s mother did, and so stop eating. This is usually a sign of depression driven by the loss of control or a sense of isolation in their lives. To overcome these issues, you need to become creative by asking your loved one to help plan meals. Make occasions of mealtimes by inviting other family members or friends to join in. Many older people don’t like to eat alone. Try setting the table with the good china, lighting candles, and preparing colorful foods whose flavors are boosted by spices and seasoning to engage your loved one at mealtime. A little excitement might make them more enthusiastic about mealtime.

We hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about ways to overcome an older person’s appetite loss.

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