Understanding How Appetites Change as We Get Older

It goes without saying that food gives our minds and bodies the energy we need to function. But food is so much more than just fuel – it is a sensory experience to be enjoyed no matter what your age.

As we get older, our appetites change. This makes nutrition a main focus in care homes to ensure residents are receiving a healthy, well-balanced diet filled with appetising foods. This article delves deeper into understanding how appetites change with age, with a focus on the physiological and mental changes that may cause a difference in care home residents’ appetites as they get older.

What Impacts Our Appetite?

From a young child to later years, there are many different factors that can impact our appetite. Mental and physical health, environment and lifestyle can all affect our overall eating experience and habits. As a baby and toddler, we are exposed to new foods and develop different tastes, gradually learning what we do and don’t like.

During our teenage and young adult years, changes in hormones, metabolism and working life all impact on our approach to eating and shape our choices. We might start skipping meals or eating fast food on the go to accommodate a busy lifestyle. During our 30s and 40s, the effects of working stress can create unhealthy eating habits, often causing people to either overeat or lose their appetite. Protein intake is more important from the age of around 50 due to a gradual loss of muscle mass for those in this age group.

These days, the increase in life expectancy means there should be a clear focus on nutrition for those aged 60 and above. However, this is often easier said than done, as old age can bring poor appetite which can in turn lead to weight loss and increased fragility. As a result, there is a higher risk of falls and hospital visits.

How Is Appetite Different for the Elderly? 

Contrary to common belief, the stomach doesn’t shrink with age – rather, physiological changes mistakenly tell the brain that a person is full when they’re not. This causes older people to experience unintentional weight loss. There are also other factors that may impact appetite for the elderly, such as:

  • impaired senses
  • digestive system changes
  • medication side effects
  • mouth pain or dental issues
  • impaired dexterity

Reduced physical activity and lower energy levels mean that older people need fewer calories. However, it’s worth noting here that if you notice an elderly person is refusing to eat and is experiencing extreme weight loss, there is a risk of malnutrition which will require immediate attention.

How Does Dementia Impact Appetite?

Dementia can prevent older people from maintaining healthy eating habits and their appetite can change as the condition progresses. The physical and mental changes they undergo can mean that a person with dementia is not able to carry out the different steps required for eating a meal, such as using cutlery, feeding themselves and swallowing food. As a result, they may become agitated and upset that they are unable to complete a task they were previously able to do easily.

It can be tricky for older people to put on the weight they have lost, so early intervention is key to ensure those living with dementia receive the nutritional intake they need for a well-balanced diet. But how can healthy eating habits be introduced?

How Can the Appetite of Care Home Residents Be Increased?

  1. Encourage social dining for at least one meal a day – this should be as inclusive as possible so residents who are assisted can eat in a respectful manner
  2. Prepare for the dining experience so that residents feel comfortable and dignified
  3. Involve residents in menu creation and ask for feedback in person as well as via forms so more introverted residents still feel involved
  4. Meals should be nutritious, colourful and appetising – add a little extra fat to meals for those struggling to keep weight on
  5. Portion control – don’t pile food onto the plate, as this may overwhelm the residents
  6. Set a schedule for meals so that it’s part of a routine for residents, but be flexible and let them choose what they’d like to eat and when if required

At Bondcare, our talented team of chefs caters for different dietary requirements so that all residents in our care homes receive healthy, nutritious meals. We understand how important a well-balanced diet is for older people, which is why we spend a great deal of time and effort putting together menus that meet their needs. To find out more about any of our care homes across the UK, simply get in touch with our experienced team today.