Is loss of appetite normal as you age?

Find out if you should you worry about an older adult that is eating less than usual.
A fellow caregiver asked...

Mom is 92. I am worried that she is not eating like she should. In 2004 she had several mini strokes. She has never been a big eater but now she is eating less and less. I asked the doctor and he said that it was normal to lose one's appetite as one gets older. Is this true?

Expert Answer

Beth Reardon, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is Caring.com senior food and nutrition editor and the director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine. As a practitioner of integrative nutrition, Reardon takes a holistic approach to wellness, recognizing that the foundation for optimal health and healing begins with a health-promoting diet. As a practitioner of integrative nutrition, Reardon takes a holistic approach to wellness, recognizing that the foundation for optimal health and healing begins with a health-promoting diet.

It is true that our appetite declines as we age. There are many possible explanations for this, among them a decrease in activity or energy levels and a declining sense of taste and smell "“ both of which will impact appetite. A decrease in appetite is also a side effect of some medications. The series of strokes may have impacted your mother's ability to physically chew and swallow her food requiring more time for her to finish a meal. Regardless of the cause, it is important that meal times remain pleasurable and that your mother has help choosing foods that provide the greatest amounts of nutrients. Served up with a side of patience, here are some other suggestions for your mother:

  1. At meals, eat the most nutritious foods first. Start with the protein foods (meat, chicken, and fish).
  2. Flavor foods with herbs and spices that are more intense and interesting such as garlic, turmeric and curry.
  3. Eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Schedule meals and snacks during periods of the day when you have more energy.
  4. Drink high calorie beverages such as fruit nectars, milk, cocoa, malted milk, shakes, smoothies, Ovaltine® , Carnation Instant Breakfast® , and commercial nutritional beverages such as Ensure® and Boost® .
  5. Avoid low calorie/low fat foods (breads,crackers,starches) and beverages that may be too filling when cosumed with the meal.
  6. Eat high calorie snacks such as peanut butter, hummus, cheese, puddings, nuts, nut butters, trail mix, breakfast and meal bars, cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese, and hard-boiled eggs.
  7. Keep snacks readily available to nibble on.
  8. Try to do some physical activity before meals. Stretch or take a stroll.