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What To Do When an Elderly Person Stops Eating?

What To Do When an Elderly Person Stops Eating?

If you’ve noticed recent changes in your loved one’s eating habits, such as unexplained weight loss or not wanting to eat anymore, it’s important to address these issues promptly with their health provider.

Physical changes, a decline in energy levels, and even end-of-life, can all impact eating patterns as we age.

While distressing, there are steps you can take to stimulate your loved one’s appetite and improve their quality of life.

We’ll share reasons why an elderly person might stop eating, tips on how to help your loved one, and explain how our supportive team at Always Best Care can guide you and your loved one during this difficult time.

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Why Does an Elderly Person Stop Eating?

There are different reasons why an elderly person might stop eating, ranging from medical issues to emotional and physical changes.

  • Medication: The side effects of different medications, such as antibiotics or painkillers, can lead to nausea, which in turn reduces appetite or causes an upset stomach.
  • Loss of taste and smell: As individuals age, their sense of taste and smell often diminishes. These changes can be aggravated by different factors such as medications, which might interfere with taste signals to the brain, and nasal or sinus issues, which can obstruct or diminish the sense of smell.
  • Vision loss: Vision loss can impact an elderly person’s ability to eat independently. They may struggle to identify foods on their plate or lose interest in eating because they can’t see their meal clearly, making dining a less enjoyable experience.
  • Constipation: Constipation is a common condition among the elderly. It is typically caused by decreased physical activity, insufficient hydration, and a lack of dietary fiber. This can make eating uncomfortable and may lead to a reduced appetite.
  • Tooth decay and receding gums: Dental issues like tooth decay or receding gums can make chewing painful. This might cause some elderly individuals to avoid hard or chewy foods, such as meats and raw vegetables.
  • Dry mouth: Many older adults experience dry mouth, or xerostomia, which can be a side effect of certain medications, including decongestants and antihistamines.
  • Depression or isolation: Emotional issues greatly affect appetite. Elderly individuals who are depressed or feel isolated often lose their desire to eat. This issue is further worsened by fewer social interactions, which would typically help encourage regular meals.
  • End-of-life: Towards the end of life, the body naturally begins to shut down, and the need for energy decreases. Individuals in their twilight years often lose their appetite as part of this process. This can be due to a combination of factors, including metabolic changes and an overall decrease in physical and mental activity.
A senior holding a caregiver's hand​
Elderly individuals can stop eating due to different reasons, such as tooth decay, constipation, or vision loss​

Why Do End-of-Life Patients Stop Eating?

In the final weeks, days, or hours of life, it’s common for individuals to eat and drink less — or not at all.

As someone nears the end of life, their body slows down and requires less energy. They may also be unable to process food and drink.

How Long Can an Elderly Person Live When They Stop Eating?

When an elderly person stops eating, the duration of how long they can live will depend on several factors, including their overall health, hydration levels, and the presence of any chronic conditions.

As a good rule of thumb, an individual might survive for about 10 days without food. However, this can extend to several weeks in some cases.

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What To Do When Your Elderly Loved One Stops Eating?

Whether your loved one is at home or in hospice, it’s often distressing for family caregivers to see them lose their appetite and unintentionally lose weight.

If you’re in this situation, here’s what you can do to help your elderly loved one:

  • Identify the cause: Determine if your loved one’s lack of appetite is due to a medical condition, medication side effects, dental issues, emotional distress, or other factors. Consult with their healthcare provider to rule out or treat any medical causes. For example, if they are on a new medication, a doctor can check for side effects that may be affecting their appetite. Alternatively, if dental pain is an issue, visiting the dentist might be necessary to address any oral health problems.
  • Upgrade the aesthetic and taste of your loved one’s meals: Make sure your loved one’s meals smell delicious and look good enough to eat. Try using colorful dishes and adding some spices and herbs to enhance the flavors. It also helps to serve smaller, more frequent meals rather than big ones. This can make eating more manageable and enjoyable.
  • Modify your loved one’s diet: Focus on nutrient-rich, easy-to-eat foods like smoothies, soups, and stews. If your loved one has difficulty chewing or swallowing, softer foods can be a helpful alternative.
  • Switch to smaller, more frequent meals: Consider having six to eight small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones. This approach can help manage appetite better and ensure steady energy levels.
  • Provide your loved one’s favorite foods: Sometimes, familiarity can be comforting. Whether it’s their favorite ice cream or a good ol’ home-cooked meal, offer foods that your loved one has always enjoyed, as these may be more appealing to them.
  • Avoid strong food odors: Strong smells can be off-putting, especially if your loved one is feeling sensitive. Opt for foods that are less aromatic and more neutral in smell, such as stinky cheeses.
  • Create a pleasant dining environment for your loved one: Eating in a calm and comfortable setting can boost appetite. If isolation is a concern, try arranging communal meals, as socializing can spark an interest in food.
  • Keep your loved one’s lips and mouth moist: If your loved one can no longer drink, gently keep their lips and mouth moist using swabs, a damp washcloth, lip balm, or moisturizers.
  • Provide alternative forms of nourishment: If your loved one can no longer eat or choose not to eat, offer nourishment in other ways. Engage them in conversation, share a gentle touch, play their favorite music, arrange for pet visits, or offer gentle massages. This approach can significantly comfort and support them.
  • Explore other medication options: If dietary changes don’t stop weight loss, talk to your healthcare provider about medications that can stimulate appetite. These can include Megace (megestrol acetate), metoclopramide, and cannabinoids like medical marijuana and Marinol (dronabinol).
  • Monitor hydration: Make sure your loved one drinks enough water — around eight to 10 glasses throughout the day. Elderly people often don’t feel thirsty, which can lead to dehydration and decrease their appetite.
  • Encourage gentle exercise: Light physical activities, like a short walk or swimming, can help stimulate appetite. Try to incorporate these into your loved one’s daily routine for better health benefits.
  • Consult a dietitian: A professional can provide personalized nutritional advice and meal plans to ensure your loved one is getting the necessary nutrients.
  • Support your loved one: Address any emotional or mental health issues. Depression and isolation often reduce appetite, so consider arranging sessions with a counselor or therapist who can provide targeted support and strategies to improve their emotional well-being.
A senior couple eating fresh fruits​
Provide your loved one’s favorite foods to help them feel more comfortable and interested in eating​

Explore Compassionate Care Services at Always Best Care

If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, maintaining consistent, healthy eating habits can be challenging.

That’s where Always Best Care comes in.

Our team is ready to provide top-notch care services for your elderly loved one, ensuring they receive nutritional support and daily assistance tailored to their specific needs.

Operating across 225 territories, we can help alleviate the challenges experienced by caregivers.

  • Specialized home care services: We offer daily social interactions and provide insights into your loved one’s health directly from their home.
  • Skilled home health care services: We create personalized care plans tailored to your loved one’s recovery or specific health needs, available in select areas.
  • Respite care services: We offer temporary relief for caregivers, ensuring your loved one receives constant, compassionate care. Respite durations can range from a few hours to several days, based on your needs.
  • Dementia care services: We provide specialized care for individuals with dementia, focusing on their comfort, safety, and well-being.
  • Senior living referral services: We can help you select the best senior living options tailored to your loved one’s preferences and needs.
  • Veterans assistance program: We provide top-quality care for veterans and assist them in securing necessary funding for their care needs.

At Always Best Care, our compassionate team is dedicated to uplifting the lives of the elderly, especially when it comes to their nutrition and overall well-being.

Feel free to reach out to us — we’d love to discuss how we can enhance your loved one’s comfort and quality of life.

Ask us how we can help.
Request a care consultation