As parents age, proper nutrition becomes even more important to their health, quality of life and vitality. Unfortunately, many changes occur that can make eating less enjoyable, reduce appetites and even make cooking feel more like a chore, and family caregivers are often responsible for making sure their loved ones are getting enough nutrients.
Warning Signs There Might Be a Potential Problem
If you’re not around your mom all day, it can be hard to know if she’s eating the foods she needs to keep her body and mind sharp and extend quality of life. Here are some things to keep an eye out for that might signal your loved one’s diet is lacking:
- Your mom has always been a hearty eater but no longer eats as much.
- Your loved one used to love eating out, but now she’s stopped going to her favorite restaurants.
- You’re noticing signs of depression, including a change in appetite.
- Your mom lost 10 pounds in the past six months.
- There is expired or spoiled food in the fridge.
- She’s on more than three medications.
- You mom has dementia or other cognitive problems and lives alone.
Why Your Mom’s Appetite Might Have Changed
If you suspect your mom isn’t eating right, it's time to find out why. A number of factors can cause loss of appetite in seniors, including:
- Lifestyle changes: Maybe your dad passed away and your mom lacks the motivation to make meals when dining alone. Perhaps a limited budget makes it harder for your mom to afford a balanced, healthy diet.
- Lessened physical activity: Seniors not only have lower levels of activity, but they also have a lower metabolic rate, which means they need fewer calories.
- Changing taste buds: Some seniors experience a lack of interest in food due to a reduction in their senses of smell and taste.
- Medication side effects: Some medications are accompanied by side effects that can affect seniors’ eating habits. Alzheimer’s drugs, antidepressants and stimulants can be causing a reduction in appetite or other related symptoms, such as bad tastes in the mouth.
- Health conditions: Serious illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, head and neck cancers, dental problems or gastrointestinal changes, salivary gland dysfunction, and thyroid disorders, can all cause changes to taste or appetite.
How You Can Help Your Mom Eat Right
If you’re concerned about a recent change in your mom’s appetite, here are a few things you can to do help stimulate her appetite and ensure she gets the energy and nutrients she needs to be healthy.
- Set meal times: Humans are creatures of habit, and so are their bodies. Encourage your mom to mix up her food choices but eat at the same time every day. This will help keep her appetite up. If she’s not hungry at mealtime, assemble some small snacks she can eat in place of a normal meal so her body’s hunger signals stay regular. Healthy options include nuts and seeds, low-fat cheese, and fresh fruit and veggies.
- Increase nutrient density and flavor: Your mom doesn’t need to simply eat more food. She needs to be eating more nutrient-dense foods. Staples include oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, blueberries, apples, fish, chicken, broccoli, soy, sweet potatoes and squash, rice and dark chocolate. If a reduction in senses of smell and taste seem to be the problem, add flavorful spices and herbs to recipes.
- Encourage shared meals: Make meals more enjoyable for seniors who normally dine alone by recruiting family and friends to share at least one meal a day with them. You can also take advantage of meals at senior centers, places of worship and community organizations.
- Consider a delivery service: If getting to the grocery store or shopping alone is what’s preventing your mom from eating healthy, sign her up for a grocery store’s delivery services or a meal delivery service. Meal delivery services like Meals on Wheels provide nutritious meals.
- Talk to a physician: During your mom’s next doctor’s appointment, ask her health care provider if her loss of appetite is due to any of her prescriptions or medical treatments. They might be able to adjust her medications to reduce the unwanted side effects, or they might prescribe an appetite stimulant or recommend working with a dietitian who can help you and your mom learn more about menu planning and good eating choices.
If you’re concerned about a lack of appetite in your aging mom, invite her over for dinner, make a flavorful meal that’s full of fiber-rich foods and important vitamins and minerals, and talk to her about your concerns. Listen to what she has to say, and let her know that simple dietary changes can go a long way toward making her feel happier and healthier.