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Anorexia in Older Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia is a loss of appetite, decreased food intake, or both. Your appetite naturally decreases as you get older. You also get full faster than you used to. This occurs because your body needs less energy. Other natural body changes can also lead to a decreased appetite. Even though some appetite loss is normal, you still need to get enough calories and nutrients to keep you healthy. You can start to lose too much weight if you do not eat as much food as your body needs. Unwanted weight loss can cause health problems, or worsen health problems you already have. You can also become dehydrated if you do not drink enough liquid.

What causes anorexia in older adults?

  • Decreased sense of taste and smell
  • Living alone
  • Change in environment, such as moving to a nursing home
  • Low income
  • Dental problems, dentures that do not fit well, or chewing or swallowing problems
  • Medical conditions that affect your appetite, such as cancer, depression, dementia, or alcoholism
  • Medical conditions that affect your ability to prepare food or eat, such as poor eyesight or Parkinson disease
  • Medicines that decrease your appetite or sense of taste and smell
  • Alcoholism or other substance abuse

How can I eat healthy and get enough nutrients?

  • Choose healthy foods. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, lean meats, and other protein foods. Limit foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Limit or avoid alcohol as directed. Work with a dietitian to help you plan your meals if you need to follow a special diet. A dietitian can also teach you how to modify foods if you have trouble chewing or swallowing.
    Healthy Foods
  • Snack on healthy foods between meals if you only eat a small amount during meals. Snacks provide extra healthy nutrients and calories between meals. Examples include fruit, cheese, and whole grain crackers.
  • Drink liquids as directed to avoid dehydration. Drink liquids between meals if they cause you to get full too quickly during meals. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Use herbs, spices, and flavor enhancers to add flavor to foods. Avoid using herbs and spice blends that also contain sodium. Ask your healthcare provider or dietitian about flavor enhancers. Flavor enhancers with ham, natural bacon, and roast beef flavors can also be sprinkled on food to add flavor.
  • Share meals with others as often as you can. Eating with others may help you to eat better during meal time. Ask family members, neighbors, or friends to join you for lunch. There are also senior centers where you can meet people, and share meals with them.
  • Ask family and friends for help with shopping or preparing foods. Ask for a ride to the grocery store, if needed.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I work with my healthcare provider to stay healthy?

  • Tell your healthcare provider about any illnesses or medicines that have decreased your appetite. He or she may be able to change your medicines. Your healthcare provider may also be able to prescribe medicines that can increase your appetite.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about nutrition supplements you can have between meals. Nutrition supplements can provide extra calories and nutrients if you are not getting enough through food. Nutrition supplements are available in liquids, puddings, bars, and soups.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about safe physical activities you can do. Physical activity may help to increase your appetite. It can also help to strengthen your muscles and bones.
    Tai Chi for Seniors
  • Ask your healthcare provider about programs that can help you buy food or provide meals. There are programs that provide financial assistance for food if you have a low income. There are also programs in some areas that may be able to deliver healthy prepared meals to your home.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You are losing weight.
  • You feel depressed, confused, tired, irritable, and you do not feel like eating.
  • You have signs of dehydration. Examples include dark yellow urine, dry mouth and lips, dry skin, fast heartbeat, and urinating less than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.