Aging Anorexia: The Real Reason Why Elderly People Eat Less
You might be familiar with this scenario: whenever you bring your kids to visit their grandparents, they always cook up a feast for the family meal. But when you are not around, perhaps they just eat out, or “隨便吃” – a Mandarin phrase that usually means to randomly choose simple meals that tend to be nutritionally-poor.
Or they might heat up leftovers from the sumptuous feast they had with you last night, for their meals today. Typically, they will brush off your comments about their poor dietary habits, saying that they don’t feel hungry or that they get full very easily.
However, an elderly person’s casual food choices and tiny appetites at every meal may be subtle signs of aging anorexia.
What Is Aging Anorexia?
Aging anorexia describes reduced appetite in an elderly person that can lead to serious health problems like muscle loss (sarcopenia), weight loss, reduced immunity, increased frailty and higher risks of organ failures.1 2
Muscle wasting, weight loss and poor appetite contribute to, and are caused by, insufficient dietaryintake.3 Signs of aging anorexia usually go unnoticed until pronounced weight loss has occurred.4
(Two people only, don’t need to eat so much?)
The reasons why your parents may have a reduced appetite can be wide ranging, such as:
- Loss of sensory function & hormonal changes - As people age, the number of their tastebuds decreases. Loss of taste and smell functions due to aging can make food less palatable to them. Aging is also associated with changes in levels of appetite regulating hormones like ghrelin (the ‘hunger hormone’), leptin (the ‘satiety hormone’) and insulin, which affect the wish to eat, hunger and satiation.
- Inefficient digestion - As people age, they become less efficient at storing water, leading to chronic dehydration, and absortion efficiency of important micronutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, iron and beta-carotene are reduced. This contributes to and causes decline in metabolism and appetite.
- Dental issues - Some elderly people have oral issues such as bad or missing teeth, or poorly-fitted dentures that make chewing or swallowing food difficult.
- Medical issues - They may also have chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus that can interfere with appetite, or take medicines that can cause symptoms like dry mouth that affect the way they taste food.
- Social changes - Elderly people might also find it a hassle to buy and prepare three high quality meals for two or less people daily, instead preferring to save their efforts on once-weekly meals with you and their grandchildren. And with a smaller social circle as they age, the joy of communing over meals decreases.
The Gift Of Good Health: Health Is Wealth
You may not be able to accompany your parents or elderly friends for every meal, but you can help break the cycle of low appetite, poor dietary intake and decreasing muscle mass that puts their health in danger.
A multivitamin supplement that is complete from A to Zinc provides your loved ones with essential vitamins and minerals to fill their nutritional gaps. Look for a pharmaceutical-grade supplement with a formulation of nutrients that is age-adjusted to fill the changing nutritional needs of adults over 50 years old.
You can also buy multivitamins for seniors that are gender specific. A multivitamin for senior men should contain more Lycopene, Zinc, Magnesium and B group vitamins to keep their heart and metabolism healthy, and for senior women, more Calcium, Iron and Vitamin D to counter their higher risk of osteoporosis.
Getting enough of these micronutrients are, apart than love, what keeps metabolism, appetite and lean muscle mass levels going in a virtuous cycle. With sufficient nutrition, your beloved seniors will be better able to enjoy life, and your company, in their golden years.
1Malafarina V, Uriz Otano F, Iniesta R, Gil-Guerrero L. Sarcopenia in the elderly: diagnosis, physiopathology and treatment. Maturitas 2012;71(2):109–14.
2Degens H, Korhonen M. Factors contributing to the variability in muscle ageing. Maturitas 2012;73(3):197–201.
3“Muscle wasting, weight loss and poor appetite contribute to, and are caused by, insufficient dietary intake.” Brownie S. Why are elderly individuals at risk of nutritional deficiency? International Journal of Nursing Practice 2006;12: 110–118
4Brownie S. Why are elderly individuals at risk of nutritional deficiency? International Journal of Nursing Practice 2006;12: 110–118
5Vincenzo Malafarina et al. The anorexia of ageing: Physiopathology, prevalence, associated comorbidity and mortality. A systematic review Maturitas 74 (2013) 293– 302