Appetite Loss: How to Combat It and Stay Healthy

Menopause & Aging Well

unhappy face made out of food on a plate


by Arar Han, co-CEO of Alert-One

In caring for your mom, you've noticed that she hasn't had much of an appetite lately. She claims not to be hungry. You're worried that she's not getting the proper nutrition.

Appetite loss can be normal for seniors, but it can lead to more serious problems. When Mom isn't eating much, eating well becomes even more important. With your guidance, she can combat appetite loss and stay healthy.

Invigorate Mealtimes

If Mom's stomach isn't growling, it's easy for her to forget to eat. Use these tips to help her get into the habit of eating regularly:

  • Set a regular meal schedule. Whether Mom prefers three big meals or six small meals throughout the day, she should create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Make meals social events. Encourage her to have meals with you and with her friends. It's easier to eat when eating with others. And it's simply more fun!
  • Eat breakfast. Breakfast will wake up her metabolism and stabilize her blood sugar, giving her more energy throughout the day. Does she use lack of time as an excuse? Have her check out meal options that you can eat on the go, such as these oatmeal squares.

What if Mom is hungry but can't bring herself to touch a full meal?

  • Start with a snack or beverage. Even a little bite may wake up her appetite.
  • Chew gum or hard candy before eating to combat dry mouth and stimulate hunger signals.

Excite the Taste Buds

Maybe Mom just isn't feeling excited about her food. Introduce her to some new types of food to make meals interesting again.

  • Swap recipes with friends or neighbors for new dish ideas.
  • Serve food at the right temperature. Food tastes better when it is the proper temperature. Cold fold should be cold, and hot food should be hot. It not only tastes better, it's safer.
  • Use herbs and spices to add flavor without adding salt, which raises blood pressure. Spices from various cuisines will give her a whole new world of flavor.  Try turmeric, saffron, garlic and cinnamon. For even more flavor, add soy sauce, flavored vinegars or hot sauce.

Pack in Nutrition

Small portions mean that every bite needs to pack a nutritional punch. Mom needs to focus on nutritional quality over quantity.

  • Add calories and, in some cases, protein by adding sauces, gravy, peanut butter or cream to foods.
  • Provide high-calorie snacks. Good options are dried fruits, nuts, eggs, cheese, yogurt, sliced turkey and granola bars. Keep them around the house so she can snack at any time.
  • Choose nutritious and filling drinks. Look into smoothies and nutritional milkshakes to supplement her diet. Drinks can be easier to get down than a full meal.
  • Add a multivitamin or zinc to her daily routine. This may give her the vitamins and minerals she needs if she's not getting them from food.

Eat and Enjoy

Mom's appetite may be waning, but with some careful meal planning, you can pump up the taste and nutrition. Eating shouldn't be a chore. If mealtimes are a fun and social activity, she will forget to worry about how much she's eating. With new tastes in her mouth and friends to laugh with, meals will be fun again.

About the author: Arar Han is co-CEO of Alert-One, a personal safety technology and consulting firm headquartered in Williamsport, Pa., with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Arar holds a dual degree in philosophy and human development from Boston College, summa cum laude, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Originally from Seoul, she lives in Palo Alto, Calif., with her family.

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