Appetite Loss in Seniors
It doesn’t take an advanced degree to realize and understand that not getting enough food can lead to many different health issues. Everything our bodies do and make and provide comes more or less directly from the food we eat. Living without taking in the proper nutrition is like trying to run a car empty of oil or gasoline. Eventually you’ll be headed for a breakdown.
Because of the obvious importance of food and nutrition, this makes appetite loss a potentially very serious issue. Not eating enough increases the risk of malnutrition, which can have a deleterious cascade of negative health effects.
Those who are at particular risk from malnutrition are people with underlying health conditions. For many of us among the elderly population, health conditions are a simple fact of life. Among all age groups and demographics, there are many different causes and factors for appetite loss. For older people, however, there is a specific form of appetite loss exclusive to seniors, known as anorexia of aging.
Shockingly, it is estimated that between fifteen and thirty percent of older adults have anorexia of aging, which is defined as an extended period of low appetite, caused by the changes that aging brings about in our bodies. Among the many effects aging has on us, a few that contribute and compound with each other are our digestive systems slowing down, our energy needs decreasing, and our senses of taste, smell, and vision changing. When taken together, these factors can cause a loss of appetite.
Appetite and health go hand in hand with each other. If you don’t eat enough and take in adequate nutrition, it leads to weight loss and malnutrition, both of which can accelerate frailty. Overall health is weakened by a lack of nutrients, which will decrease mobility and reduce quality of life. Not getting enough protein can compromise skin integrity, increasing infection risk. Too little iron, calcium, and vitamin D can sharply reduce bone density, leading to a higher risk of debilitating fractures or osteoporosis. Those suffering with anorexia of aging experience an overall increase in their risk of mortality.
There’s no one single change in older adults that causes anorexia of aging. Rather, it is a constellation of factors that all work together to cause it. Some sufferers may experience one or two, most of them, or all of them.
Physical changes include slower digestion, making it harder to eat consistently, reduced capacity for taste which lowers enthusiasm for meals, difficulty with chewing and swallowing, mobility issues which interfere with ability to feed oneself, or medical conditions like gastric diseases or impaired nutrient absorption.
Mental health can have an effect as well. Changes in the living situation, letting go of loved ones, social isolation, and more issues common among seniors can harm mental health or cause depression, which can reduce appetite as well.
Most seniors take at least one, if not many more, prescription medications for various maladies and conditions. Loss of appetite is a common side effect with many different medications.