Help! My Aging Loved One Won’t Eat

help my aging loved one won't eat

Has your aging parent or grandparent shown signs of a waning appetite or refused to eat altogether? The waning of appetite is a natural part of aging and – eventually – dying. However, lack of appetite, changes in taste, or food resistance may signal an undiagnosed or unmanaged health issue. 

Is It Normal For A Senior To Stop Eating?

There are multiple reasons a parent or grandparent won’t eat. This could be physical discomfort, medication side effects, or an undiagnosed medical issue. Inactivity or depression can also play a part. Finally, less energy spent during the day means fewer calories required, so inactive or minimally active seniors may also experience a naturally diminished appetite.

After noticing an aging loved one won’t eat, the first step is to assess the underlying cause. Here are places to start:

An aging loved one won’t eat if they need dentures or dental work

Sometimes, seniors are reluctant to acknowledge painful or sore teeth. They may worry about inconveniencing you or have financial concerns and fret about how much serious dental work or new dentures will cost. However, malnutrition affects seniors quickly, so time is of the essence.

It may be time to schedule an appointment with your loved one’s dentist to get a professional opinion about whether dental issues may be part (or all) of the problem. 

When was their last physical?

Sometimes, seniors have so many routine appointments on the calendar for things like optometry, podiatry, or specialists, that they don’t realize how long it’s been since they visited their general physician. A noticeable decrease in appetite is worth scheduling an appointment.

Sometimes medication side effects or a new/exacerbated health condition affects energy and appetite levels. Medications or their side effects may also affect how food tastes. Cover all the bases to see if something physical is going on. If your parent is reluctant to share time in the physician’s office with you, speak to them and the physician about the best way for you to remain in the health/wellness communication loop without violating your loved one’s privacy.

What is the status of their mood, social engagement, or daily activity levels?

Physical, mental, and social engagement are all essential for senior health and well-being. If your parent or grandparent lacks movement in these areas, appetites may wane. Make sure your senior loved one has regular access to the following:

  • Physical movement
  • Companionship/social engagement
  • Transportation to their favorite places, activities, or events
  • Fresh, healthy meals and snacks
  • Connection with friends and social networks (use senior-friendly technology if friends have moved away or transitioned into senior housing). 

This might be a good time to look into in-home support options, which can help with the above.

Is It The Beginning (Or Middle) Of The End?

It’s hard to accept when the end of someone’s life is on the horizon. However, waning appetite – and then food refusal – is a natural part of the dying process. If your loved one has a terminal or chronic diagnosis, their lack of appetite or food resistance might signal their life force is waning. Similarly, seniors who are winding down – even without an evident health problem – often eat less and less.

Their physician may shed some insight. This might also be a good time to speak to various hospice care providers in your area. Their staff can help to assess whether your loved one has six months or less to live, in which case loss of appetite is very common. If your parent or grandparent meets hospice qualifications, you’ll benefit from an incredible support network and expert information on what to expect from month to month, week to week, and day to day.

Do They Have Access To Fresh, Healthy Meals And Snacks?

Sometimes, the very act of shopping, planning, preparing, and cleaning up around meals is too much for seniors to handle. Their refusal to eat or waning appetite may have something to do with their diminished energy levels or interest in preparing food for themselves. In this case, we recommend using a home care agency that provides meal planning, shopping, and preparation services – along with other in-home services. 

This gives seniors a break from the rigors of daily chores, refills their energy coffers, and ensures they have delicious and ready-made meals and snacks on hand.

Tips To Support Senior Nutrition When An Aging Loved One Won’t Eat

First and foremost, we advocate honoring your loved one’s feelings and intuitions. We know it’s not easy, especially when food is such a large part of nurturing the ones we love. However, if internal systems aren’t working as they should, a lack of appetite supports a senior’s well-being. 

Forcing aging adults to eat can result in severe abdominal discomfort or serious constipation, leading to painful and embarrassing treatments. Sometimes, as hard as it is, offering food but respecting their “no thank you” is the kindest way forward.

Here are ways to support senior nutrition when loved ones don’t want to eat:

  • More small, less large. Instead of three meals per day, make up healthy, balanced snacks, and small meal portions served five to six times per day.
  • Make every calorie count. Skip processed and refined foods, opting for nutrient-rich foods instead. Smoothies, homemade popsicles (made from leftover healthy smoothie ingredients), soups/stews, rice or beans with added veggies, or small salads of various kinds, avocados with lime juice/salt/pepper, cheese and whole-grain crackers, and mixed nuts with fruit are all ways to do that. Use the foundations of an anti-inflammatory diet, which can reduce symptoms associated with certain health conditions.
  • Get seniors active and moving. The more seniors are out and about, moving their bodies, and interacting with the world at large, the better their appetites tend to be. Spending more time outdoors is another way to spark the appetite, and you can pack a picnic while you’re at it.
  • Provide company during meals. Studies show that seniors who eat with companions tend to eat more than those who dine alone. So do what you can to ensure your loved one has company for at least one meal per day. If that’s not possible in person, how about during a FaceTime or video chat with you or their grandchildren?

Let HomeAide Home Care Support Your Loved One’s Healthy Diet

If your aging loved one won’t eat then let the licensed home care aides at HomeAide Home Care work our magic. We’ll ensure your loved one has regular access to delicious and healthy snacks and meals while providing companionship, transportation, or light housekeeping duties. We’re here to support aging seniors’ quality of life however we can.

Contact us to schedule your free, in-home assessment and to discuss how our sporadic, part-time, or full-time services can support you.

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