Eating is something we all need to do. It is one of the functions necessary to sustain life.
A decrease in appetite is a normal part of aging as our bodies require less energy. But, nobody tells us that as we age, eating can sometimes become a challenge. Medical issues, mobility issues and even mood issues can affect the ability and the desire to eat. You or your loved one may be struggling in ways you never imagined.
Decreased appetite and avoidance of eating can result in serious consequences:
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- In extreme cases, mortality
It can be really scary when eating becomes a struggle. It’s important to continue eating well at every age. What can you do? The good news is, there are things you can do that make eating and mealtime easier and a lot less stressful.
Address Medical Issues
Medical issues can affect appetite as well as the ability to eat comfortably. Things like gastrointestinal issues, changes in the sense of smell or taste, swallowing problems (also known as dysphagia) and dental issues are quite common sources of difficulty eating. Even ill-fitting dentures can make eating extremely uncomfortable.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulty with eating due to a medical condition, see your healthcare provider. There may be solutions that can make eating and mealtime easier.
Maintain Social Connections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affects about 1%-5% of the general elderly population, 13.5% in elderly who require home healthcare, and 11.5% in older hospital patients.1 Depression is common among older adults and especially those who are isolated or lack a social network. Appetite loss is a significant symptom of depression.
Look for opportunities to connect with others. Help your loved one to stay connected with friends and family. Community events, family gatherings, even day trips with friends can help to maintain those vital social connections. If travel is particularly difficult, technology can make staying connected easier. Things like Skype or Facetime can bring you and loved ones together.
Have Right Tools for the Job
Even if appetite is good, avoidance of eating, especially in public, can be an issue when things like mobility or dexterity just make it hard to eat. People with tremors or difficulty holding utensils can feel embarrassed. They worry about things like spills or dropping a fork or being able to hold a regular glass. Those fears can often keep them from attending meals or events with others.
Overcome mealtime challenges by making sure you have the right tools for the job. Adaptive utensils such as easy-grip cutlery, sectioned plates or covered cups can make eating a meal easier and allow the user to be as independent as possible. Stylish bibs for adults like those from Classy Pal can keep drips and spills in check. When choosing adaptive items, be sure to choose items that are made for and styled for adults.
Have a Support System
Whether it is you or your loved one struggling with eating, it is important to allow others to help. No one can do everything alone and we all, regardless of age, need help with something.
One of the things we fear most as we age is a loss of independence and needing help can feel like losing our ability to do things. Asking for help is in no way giving up independence. In fact, knowing when we need help and being able to ask for it actually helps to maintain independence. Little adjustments can make a huge difference between having that lunch out with friends and making an excuse to stay home.
Ask a loved one to go with you or help you pick out the perfect chic bib or weighted spoon. It’s okay to ask for help.
Talk About It
Sometimes, a decline in eating can leave someone feeling isolated or alone. When we struggle, it can feel like no one else could possibly understand. If you or your loved one is faced with this issue, know that you’re not alone. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Tell your healthcare provider. If you need help dealing with the feelings that can come with eating issues, a counselor can help sort it all out in a safe and private setting.
Our eating changes as we get older. Those changes don’t have to mean a loss of independence or being excluded from things we love to do. With a little planning and some support, you or your loved one can enjoy good meals and good times with friends and family.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older,” Division of Population Health, updates January 31, 2017, retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/mentalhealth/depression.html