A reduced appetite can be a natural part of ageing and is extremely common amongst the elderly. However, proper nutrition is crucial for people of all ages, so it is important to try and encourage those in your Care Home to follow a nutritious diet.
Why is it common for seniors to experience loss of appetite?
The ageing process brings with it a host of changes in the body and mind that can lead to decreased appetite in the elderly. These can range from changes as small as an alteration to the sense of smell and dental problems to a lower metabolic rate. As the body is often likely to become less tolerant to extreme exercise, seniors will need fewer calories due to lessened physical activity. Gastrointestinal changes which can cause lactose intolerance are highly likely to affect the appetite.
It is particularly common for seniors with Dementia to have difficulty in maintaining a nutritional diet. Reasons for this include difficulty coordinating movements in order to get food into their mouths, difficulty maintaining attention on eating, dysphagia, level of cognitive and physical impairment and resistance to care. Agitation and psychological symptoms such as depression and apathy can also be a contributing factor.
Here are some tips you can follow to encourage residents to eat more regularly:
> Ensure you check seniors’ oral health and swallowing
Pain in the mouth or difficulty swallowing can affect what people can eat. Softer or blended foods are better if you find that a resident has a problem with oral health.
> Create a meal schedule that residents can follow. The physiological drive to eat decreases with age, so it is likely that individuals may not experience the same physical signals of hunger as they did at a younger age. Encourage clients have meal times at specific times to develop to develop a routine. This will also ensure regularity and allow you to track what people are eating much easier.
>Encourage residents to socialise more so they can eat with others. There have been a large number of studies that have shown the positive impact of eating in a group. Depression from loneliness and social isolation is a significant cause of appetite loss in the elderly, according to an article published in the journal “International Psychogeriatric” in 2003. If people have mobility issues, they may be keen to eat in their armchair or in bed. If they can get up, it is worth encouraging people to sit at the dining table to eat, as this is a better sitting position and allows more defined ‘meal times’ to develop.
> Talk to a Doctor about prescribing an appetite stimulant for a senior who refuses to eat. Appetite loss can lead to unintentional weight loss and poor nutrition status, which increases the risk of illness and disease. If other attempts to improve a senior’s appetite have failed, a prescription appetite stimulant may be useful.
>Allow clients to participate in activities that involve food. This can involve activities such as cooking classes, potlucks and bake sales. Through encouraging these activities, seniors are encouraged to enjoy the preparation of food and will benefit from the opportunity to socialise as well as increasing appetite.
>Enhance the visual reputation of food. If elderly people cannot clearly see what is being served, they are likely to lose interest in eating meals. To enhance the visual representation of a senior’s meals, make a point of using healthy, colourful foods. It is worthwhile to separate each part of the meal so they are clearly defined on the plate. A good tip is to serve food on plates that contrast with the colour of the meal being served. To keep mealtimes interesting, it is a good idea to alter the food you are serving daily.
> Ensure every individual stays hydrated
Lack of water can cause appetite suppression. Adequate hydration is needed for all bodily functions and dehydration is a common problem in the elderly. You can improve hydration through making drinks more interesting and checking residents are drinking regularly.
> Invest in resources for improving the physical and social environment of dining areas in care homes. Recent research has shown that environment is a crucial factor that can have an impact upon seniors in terms of eating a good meal. For example, eating in an environment that is noisy and stressful can exacerbate agitation among people with Dementia, resulting in inadequate food consumption. Playing slow and relaxing music during mealtimes may help to counteract the general noise in your Care Homes. It has been suggested that a dining environment that is welcoming, relaxing and comfortable has the potential to increase food intake and social interaction, which can make the experience more enjoyable.
To encourage seniors to eat in the dining room, you can buy furniture and accessories to make the environment more visually exciting. This can include buying equipment for playing music such as CDs and buying brightly coloured crockery and utensils. Other ideas to improve the environment could be buying cloths, place mats, signs, bread making machines and lights. Featuring an aquarium in the dining room has become a more popular trend recently in Care Homes, as it is both a peaceful and interesting addition. For safety, these should be lockable and difficult to move.
Read our blog for additional tips on decorating your care home