How to Increase and Stimulate Appetite in the Elderly
It can often be hard to convince elderly loved ones to eat enough food throughout the day to sustain them and provide their bodies with important nutrition.
We’ve listed eight ways in which you can encourage regular, healthy eating habits in elderly people struggling with their appetite.
Create a routine
Creating a routine for meals, snacks and drinks can help to develop familiarity and certainty for those who need sustenance but might be confused or suspicious about whether they should be eating when they don’t feel hungry. Having certain times of the day at which food and drink is consumed helps to create an expectation that eating and drinking is the established activity for that time of the day.
Routine doesn’t only have to revolve around time; it can also focus on what type of food you eat. For example, if you consistently start the day with a bowl of porridge, then your loved one may soon accept their porridge as part of their normal day.
When your loved one eats, you want them to be ingesting as much nutrition as possible. Fortifying foods can help to increase intake of vital nutrients such as vitamins, iron and calcium. Some foods, including most breakfast cereals, are already fortified by the manufacturer. However, there are several ways in which you can fortify snacks and meals for people with no appetite or suffering from malnutrition.
To increase calorie intake, the NHS recommends adding butter, cream, full fat milk or cheese to snacks or meals. 1 knob of butter, for example, adds 150 kcal to a scoop of mashed potato. Protein can be boosted by adding a wide range of foods, including meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, whilst multi-vitamins can also be taken to supplement meals.
Eat with others
Turning meal times into a social event can set an example to your loved one about the importance of eating, as well as creating an enjoyable event for them to look forward to. Meals can often be a battle for people lacking appetite, so the prospect of spending time with others is something that can make meal times a more enticing prospect. Find out what meals and foods your loved one particularly enjoys, and how they like it to be prepared, as this will always increase the likelihood of them finding their appetite.
Fight dry mouth
Dry mouth has been known to hinder an elderly person’s ability and desire to eat and drink. If this appears to be the case for your loved one, the first step to take is to consult your doctor or dentist, as often medication is the primary cause of dry mouth. Ask your doctor or dentist to recommend you products that moisturise your mouth, including prescription or over-the-counter mouthwashes. Your doctor may determine that medication isn’t the cause of dry mouth, in which case it’s likely to be caused by dehydration, an existing medical condition or treatment such as chemotherapy.
Steps that can be taken include increasing water consumption, limiting caffeine intake, stopping tobacco use and brushing your teeth at least twice a day. See the NHS website for more details.
Use finger foods
Finger foods can be a great alternative to a full meal for your elderly loved one if you can find options with enough nutritional value to be a viable source of sustenance. Vegetable samosas, cocktail sausages, cheese cubes, crackers, peanut butter on toast and vegetable sticks can all be helpful in encouraging a greater calorie intake through small, digestible portions. Finger food also removes the need for cutlery and cooking.
You might be accustomed to hiding snacks from hungry teenagers at home, but it’s a great idea to encourage your elderly loved ones to graze throughout the day. Snacks can be a fantastic way to ensure your loved one is eating enough calories and consuming enough nutrients every day. Nuts, raisins, carrot sticks, orange slices, dark chocolate and yoghurt can all make for tasty snacks that provide vital nutrition and sustenance.
Appetite stimulants are medications that can be taken to increase appetite in cases where people aren’t consuming enough nutrients. In some cases, vitamin supplements such as zinc, thiamine and fish oil can act as appetite stimulants. In others, medication may be required, but always consult your doctor first.
Use drinkable meals
When swallowing or using cutlery becomes difficult, drinkable meals are a straightforward way to continue to provide your loved one with all the sustenance and nutrition that they need without changing their diet. Drinkable meals generally take the form of smoothies and shakes, and you can really get creative with food combinations. Whatever ingredients you choose, ensure food is blended properly and contains no large lumps to avoid potential choking hazards.
This should be used as a last case resort, seeking a referral from your GP to speech and language therapy for a swallowing assessment would be beneficial.
Page reviewed by Rebecca Bennett, Regional Clinical Lead on August 30, 2022