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Written by Helen Chu, MS RDN, US Registered Dietitian

As we age our appetite may decrease.  Some seniors may just have tea and toast for breakfast, a cup of noodles and congee for lunch, or just have two meals per day. It is important that seniors eat a variety of food and have well-balanced meals to supply the nutrients they need.

Chronic loss of appetite can put one at risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition can worsen other health problems or disabilities.  Nutrient deficiencies weaken the immune system, leaving people more vulnerable to infection.  Adequate protein intake is needed to preserve muscle mass and strength, thus prevent falls. The decline in appetite is associated with lower calories and protein intake which may lead to unplanned weight loss, and lack of energy.

How can help seniors to improve intake?
  1. Make mealtimes pleasant
Mealtime atmosphere can help to encourage eating.Seniors living alone lose interest in cooking and eating. They tend to cook and eat a small meal. Caretakers, family members can invite friends, relatives to have lunch and dinner with them.Dining with others makes the sharing of meals more enjoyable.
  1. More frequent small meals
Older adults with poor appetite often find a big bowl or large plate of food not appealing. Plan Four to five small meals instead of three large ones. Have plenty of healthy snacks on hand for between meal. 
  1. Constipation  
Infrequent bowel movement or having difficulty passing stools is a common “complaint” among older adults. The digestive discomfort can cause them not wanting to eat.
  1. Dietary fiber and fluids - relieve or prevent constipation
Fiber – Foods high in fiber may help to have a regular bowel movement.  Dietary fiber adds bulk to stools. A bulky stool is easier to pass through the digestive system and decrease the chance of constipation.

The daily meals to include five to six servings of fiber rich food, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes, can provide the recommended 25-30 gm fiber daily.

Fluids- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Fluids help keep the stools soft, making it easier to pass. However, the elderly rarely meet the recommended amount of fluid of 8-10 glasses per day.

Tea, soups, milk, juices count as fluids, and also water taken between meals. Adding slices of lemon, orange or watermelon to water produces a fruity flavor, so that seniors find drinking water more enjoyable. Drinking caffeinated beverage such as coffee in the morning may also help.

Contrary to popular belief, one does not have to have a regular bowel movement each day. The biggest myth is that you are constipated if you don’t have daily bowel movement. It is normal for a person to have bowel movement on every other day.

Certain medicine can cause constipation such as prescription drugs for pain control, depression. Nutrition supplements- calcium, iron also increase the risk of constipation.
  1. Medication side effects- 
Some medicine alters the taste or leads to dry mouth, which affects the joy of eating.  Sipping on water can help soothen dry mouth. Some drugs can create a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth. Before mealtimes, rinse the mouth with mouth wash may help to improve taste sensation.  As we age, eating the right amount and kind of food can keep your body, mind healthy, stay energized and enjoy an active lifestyle.

Reference: Landi et  al :  Anorexia of  aging: Risk Factors , Consequences ,and Potential treatment Nutirents  :  2016 Feb 8(2) :69