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What Does It Mean When an Older Person Stops Eating?
Appetite can be a tricky thing in even the best of circumstances, and as we age, the many physiological changes that take place in our bodies only increase the possibility of developing appetite-related issues. Even when an older person is healthy, lifestyle changes and other factors can cause a loss of appetite, the effects of which are often severe and far-reaching. For this reason, it’s important to recognize when and why an older person has lost interest in food so that you can address the underlying causes and get them eating again. So, what does it mean when an older person stops eating, and what can you do about it? To find out, keep reading as the team at ENU – makers of nutritional shakes for older people – dives deeper into this important topic.
Common Reasons Why Older People Stop Eating
It’s no secret that aging renders substantial changes in the body; on the long list of shifts that take place in older people are quite a few changes that could cause an older person to stop eating as much as they used to. Below, we’ll look at some of these causes of appetite loss in seniors, divided into two groups: physiological causes and psychological causes.
Physiological Reasons Why Some Older People Stop Eating
Our bodies are constantly changing as we get older, but the process can accelerate dramatically as we reach a more advanced age. Among these changes are shifts in how the digestive system works, which can directly affect an older person’s appetite. For instance, many seniors experience chronic dry mouth, changes in their sense of taste, and constipation, any of which can reduce their desire to eat. It’s also common for those with poorly fitting dentures to avoid food, as eating can be uncomfortable. Hormonal changes, which can be substantial in older people, are also believed to play a role in the loss of appetite that comes with aging.
On top of these common physiological causes, a number of different illnesses can make an older person stop eating, including those affecting the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Conditions such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease can also have an impact on a senior’s level of appetite. In addition, many of the treatments used to address these ailments have side effects that make eating less pleasant, or even impossible, which can compound the existing reasons why an older person might stop eating.
The final factor governing a loss of appetite in older people is a reduced need for energy. Because much of our calorie requirements come from our muscle mass – and because seniors can lose muscle mass at a rate of 1% or more per year – these individuals often don’t need many calories. Also, older people tend to be much less physically active than younger people, which further limits the need to eat.
Psychological Causes of Appetite Loss in Older People
As significant as the physical causes of appetite loss can be, the mental side of the equation is often just as impactful. There are many mental illnesses that are known to affect older people and that can severely reduce a person’s desire to eat; these include depression, anxiety, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. In some cases, a person can have multiple of these, as an awareness of an existing illness – mental or otherwise – can trigger depression or anxiety.
Another mental factor that can make an older person stop eating is loneliness. Many older people live by themselves, and since eating alone often leads to eating less, these individuals tend to be less motivated to eat. In addition, seniors sometimes have trouble shopping and cooking by themselves, which can cause them to eat less often or stop eating altogether.
What to Do When an Older Person Stops Eating
Getting enough calories and nutrients is just as important for an older person as it is for anyone, if not more so. If a senior in your life has stopped eating, it’s important that you take the necessary steps to restore their appetite and get them eating again. The first point to consider is whether an underlying health condition is affecting their appetite; if so, the most direct solution to the problem is to work with their doctor to treat that illness, or at least to mitigate its effects.
Secondly, the presence of a friend or family member at mealtimes can go a long way toward stimulating an older person’s appetite. Visiting a senior for lunch or dinner may be enough to get them to resume eating, whether that involves bringing them food or simply sitting and chatting over a hot meal.
The third point to keep in mind when an older person stops eating is that an adjustment to their eating habits may be in order. Whereas younger people tend to eat large meals two or three times per day, older people may be discouraged by large portion sizes; for this reason, small meals, snacks, or meal replacement shakes spaced throughout the day at regular intervals may help them find their appetite again and start eating normally.
Healthy Nutritional Support Available for Older People Who Stop Eating
When an older person’s appetite wanes, it’s critical to ensure that they continue to get the proper nutrients, even if the overall amount they eat diminishes. To this end, the experts at ENU offer balanced supplements in the form of meal replacement shakes and nutritional powders that can help boost the amount of calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals an older person eats without forcing them to add much food to their diet. To learn more about the benefits of ENU products, visit us online or call (855) 266-6733 today.