Weight Loss or Loss of Appetite in Older Adults

Appetite tends to decrease as we age and weight loss often becomes an issue. As we age we face challenges that we might not recognize may be contributing to a decrease in appetite. There are multiple factors to consider when dealing with a loved one who is experiencing weight loss or loss of appetite and we have listed a few below.

Oral Hygiene

Regular visits to the dentist continue to be important in maintaining oral health and appetite. Just think..does food taste good when your teeth haven’t been brushed or you still have residual from your meal last night? Is there any pain or sensitivity in your loved one’s mouth that they may not recognize or be able to vocalize? Is there difficulty chewing because they are dealing with a loose or decaying tooth? Perhaps food might need to be mechanically altered to smaller pieces to help them chew. Our taste buds are cells on our tongue that allow us to perceive tastes and as bacteria accumulates on our tongue and we don’t brush or maintain oral hygiene it can cause our sense of taste to suffer. 


Many drugs may have a side effect of loss of appetite. It is important to recognize those medications and discuss with a healthcare provider to understand how to manage them. For some people it may not be a problem but for others it may be the root cause of sudden loss of appetite. 

Physical changes

Some illnesses may cause physical changes that might affect the ability to swallow. Some common signs may be drooling, coughing when drinking or eating, or the sensation of feeling like food is stuck. Being able to identify these challenges may help your loved one be able to safely eat without having the fear of choking. In some cases it may be just a matter of thickening the liquids or pureeing the solid food texture that may help ease the swallowing process. 

Some illnesses may also affect the person’s ability to feed independently. Is your loved one having trouble holding eating utensils or have poor coordination? Having tremors that cause food to spill everywhere? Can you offer bite size foods that can be easily managed without utensils? There are adaptive devices that might just help with these challenges! Adaptive devices such as weighted utensils, utensils with grips, sippy cups or plates with rims are all designed to help make dining easier by reducing the amount of effort it takes to gather and consume food independently.

Environmental influences and presentation

How are the meals being served? For loved ones that are battling with dementia, are they only holding onto memories in the past? Are these memories of them making home made banana bread for their children? Think of ways on how you can recreate the experience and memories and help encourage intake. Don’t be afraid to fill the room with aroma that might bring back great memories! 

With food, presentation is an essential part of the meal experience. Remember to take your time in making the food look appealing. The appearance of foods often stimulate our appetite and cause our desire to “take a bite!” Incorporating colors in our foods with various fruits and vegetables makes the plate more exciting and appealing. We often eat with our eyes and simple garnishes may make a boring dish much more appetizing!

Do you have a loved one who always eats in their room by themselves? Food typically tastes better when it is shared or in good company! Can you play music or set up dishes that mimic a fancy restaurant? Get creative and you may be surprised at how much it impacts the person’s appetite and wellbeing. 

Skip to content