What are the causes for appetite loss in the elderly or seniors?

Updated July 20, 2017

Appetite loss among the elderly or seniors occurs for a variety of reasons. A few of the most common causes are dental problems, illness, medication interactions and loneliness or depression. Loss of appetite among the elderly can become serious if not addressed quickly and can result in unintended weight loss, malnutrition and increased susceptibility to illness and disease. Maintaining good health as we age is the result of consistent lifestyle choices that promote our well-being.

Dental Care

Regular dental care among the elderly can result in better long-term health, particularly for those individuals that may already suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even osteoporosis. Decayed and/or missing teeth can cause mouth pain, which can translate into avoiding food. In addition, individuals that wear dentures may also experience poor dietary intake if their dentures are not fitting properly due to bone loss.

Disease States and Appetite

Cancer and stroke are two common medical causes of appetite loss. Cancers that involve the gastrointestinal tract, such as esophageal, stomach, colon and pancreatic cancers, can result in reduced appetite due to pain and malabsorption of nutrients. Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancers often result in nausea and the inability to consume adequate amounts of food, as does radiation, particularly to the throat and mouth, which may cause a metallic taste in the mouth. Surgery can create an inability to properly absorb nutrients, which can result in a loss of desire for food.

Medication Interactions

It is not uncommon for the elderly to take several different medications throughout the day for a variety of ailments. Some of these classes of medications, such as antibiotics, pain medication and antidepressants, may result in a decrease in appetite.

Loneliness and Depression

Loneliness and depression are as common among the elderly as they are among younger individuals. It is not surprising that one would feel depressed with the loss of a loved one or the continuing decline in physical or mental ability, which may result in having to live in a long-term care facility or nursing home. Unfortunately, a diminshed appetite can be the by-product of depression.

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About the Author

Cheryl Hull works as a full-time registered dietitian and began writing about nutrition in 2005. With 30 years of food service industry experience, her specialties include geriatric nutrition, nutritional management of chronic diseases, safe food handling and food preparation. Hull holds a Master of Science in nutrition science from Oklahoma State University.