Loss of Appetite in Seniors

Poor appetite is a common problem in older people living at home and in care homes, as well as hospital inpatients. It can contribute to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies, and associated poor healthcare outcomes, including increased mortality. Understanding the causes of reduced appetite will enable nurses and other clinical staff working in a range of community and hospital settings to identify patients with impaired appetite. A range of strategies can be used to promote better appetite and increase food intake.

The physiological changes that occur with ageing that can impair appetite include changes to the digestive system, hormonal changes, disease, pain, changes to the sense of smell, taste and vision and a decreased need for energy. If a senior does not eat enough, it can lead to weight loss and loss of muscle strength. This can leave them feeling tired, weak, and can make them frailer and unable to recover from infections or viruses.

There can be many causes for declining nutrition among the elderly:

  • Physical difficulties such as problems chewing or swallowing.
  • Depression – loss of appetite can be a sign of depression.
  • Communication – a person with dementia may have problems communicating that they are hungry, or what kind of food they want.
  • Pain – the person may have pain or discomfort.
  • Medication – changes to medication or dosage can create appetite changes.
  • Inactivity – if the person is not very active, he or she may not feel hungry.

Following are some things that may help encourage appetite:

  • Give them food they like.
  • Do not overload the plate with too much food.
  • Don’t assume they are finished eating because they pause.
  • Do not put pressure on the person if they are agitated or distressed.
  • If they are awake much of the night, consider nighttime snacks.

Appetite is strongly influenced by the environment and mood. Therefore, many of the psychological and social changes that can occur with ageing will influence appetite. It is important to keep this in mind and remember the signs to watch for, to be able to help.


An Overview of Appetite Decline in Older People. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4589891/

Poor Appetite and Dementia. Available from: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/poor-appetite-dementia#:

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