Under-eating in Senior Home Care
“Anorexia of Aging” – Coping with Under-Eating in Senior Home Care
When it comes to senior home care, one of the biggest concerns is undereating among the elderly. Lack of appetite is unfortunately widespread among America’s seniors. While a small decrease in appetite is natural and in many cases healthy, many seniors experience a dangerous decrease in appetite in their seventies and eighties. This condition has given rise to the term “Anorexia of Aging.” Under-eating in Senior Home Care
“Proper nutrition is key to healthy aging — but it’s also a struggle for many of our clients,” says Larry Meigs, President and CEO of the Visiting Angels senior home care network. “We’ve long held that Americans need to have a bigger conversation about healthy eating for seniors.” Under-eating in Senior Home Care
If you suspect that an elderly person in your life is starting to suffer from a reduced appetite, there are steps you can take to counteract the effects of undereating. Poor nutrition can have a serious impact on your loved one’s well-being and put them at significant risk for a number of conditions.
Luckily, there are a number of strategies used by families and senior home care professionals that encourage healthier eating in the elderly.
Causes of Under-eating in Seniors
There are a number of behavioral and biological changes that can lead to seniors eating fewer nutrients and calories than they should be.
Some of these changes are directly related to appetite. Seniors use up less energy than younger individuals, so their bodies require fewer calories. In response, seniors’ bodies respond by lowering their appetites. One recent study further suggests that elderly individuals produce a higher amount of peptide YY (aka PYY), a hormone that suppresses hunger. Reduced taste buds also make eating less pleasurable for seniors.
Other changes that lead to reduced appetite are somewhat less direct. For instance, many seniors wear dentures or suffer from dental problems, which can make eating uncomfortable or even painful. Meanwhile, medications can create or exacerbate appetite problem. Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia may also forget whether or not they have eaten, especially if they already suffer from reduced appetite.
Effects of Under-eating in Seniors
The implications of undereating for seniors may be greater than you think. As those of us in the senior home care industry know, “anorexia of aging” has been tied to numerous health problems. According to the NCBI, poor nutrition is tied to “the development and progression of chronic diseases… impaired muscle function, decreased bone mass, immune dysfunction, anemia, reduced cognitive function, poor wound healing, [and] delayed recovery from surgery.”
Ultimately, undereating can cut years from your loved one’s life. That same NCBI study reports that under-nutrition is associated with “increased morbidity and mortality” in the elderly. So if your loved one’s body or lifestyle is causing a severe loss of appetite, it’s important to take action.
Senior Home Care Tips to Prevent Under-eating
At Visiting Angels, our senior home care professionals can coordinate with families to create a senior home care plan that addresses a client’s reduced appetite. But it’s possible for seniors and their family’s to tackle undereating on their own.
Here are some of the strategies that senior home care professionals regularly use or recommend to clients to prevent undereating in elderly individuals.
- Have Meals Together. Undereating is more common among seniors who eat alone. This makes it easier for seniors to forget or skip meals if they don’t feel particularly hungry. If you can, eat meals with your loved one, or find a way that they are guaranteed company when they eat.
- Cook with Healthy, Calorie-Rich Foods. When seniors don’t have the appetite to eat more, the best way to address undereating is by adding calories without adding food mass. You can use healthy, easy-to-eat, calorie-rich foods like olive oil, yogurt, peanut butter, chickpeas, or avocadoes.
- Take Care of Meal Preparation. You can make sure that your loved one is receiving nutritious meals regularly by overseeing meal preparation. Or — if you lack the time or cooking acumen to prepare meals yourself — you can see if there is a meals-on-wheels program in your area.
- Address Any Dental Concerns. Loose or poor-fitting dentures can make chewing uncomfortable. The same can be said for tooth decay or gum disease. Ask your loved one if they have any trouble chewing and consider following up with a visit to the dentist.
- Monitor Medications. Many medications can result in lowered appetite. So ask your loved one about the side effects of his or her prescriptions. If you feel your loved one may be losing their appetite due to medication, encourage them to speak with their doctor about possible alternatives.
Visiting Angels senior home care professionals make living independently easier for America’s seniors. Our services include nutrition assistance services, such as grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal preparation. Learn more about our senior home care programs by visiting our website.
Under-eating in Senior Home Care
About the Author
Visiting Angels is a national, private duty network of senior care agencies. We are proud to be the nation’s leading provider of non-medical at home care services. With our elder care services, seniors can remain independent and live safely at home. Our senior care services include Social Care, Dementia Care, Alzheimer’s Care, End of Life Care, Companion Care, Private Duty Care, care to prevent hospital readmission, and so much more.
Compassionate, dignified at home senior care is close to home when you connect with your local Visiting Angels office by calling 800-365-4189.View All Articles