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Stay Healthy: Make Meals Social

By Lisa M. Davila, B.S.N., M.S.
July 22, 2021
Couple cooking in kitchen

Although we often hear about the high obesity rate among American adults, the opposite is often true among older adults—in fact, among adults over 65, malnutrition may be more of a concern than overnutrition. Studies show that about 15% of seniors who live alone suffer from malnutrition.

The aging process is partially responsible for the reduction in weight gain as you age. Your body composition changes and you don’t tend to need as many calories. A noticeable loss of appetite, however, is a different story.

Causes of appetite loss: Rule out medical factors

Appetite loss may be due to a number of factors such as changes in taste and smell. As with many other systems in the body, both senses are susceptible to changes as you age. “The nerves in your nose, nasopharynx, mouth, and tongue can become less sensitive to stimuli,” says Jennifer Tam, M.D., medical director at Linden Ponds, an Erickson Senior Living community in Hingham, Mass.

“Impairment of your sense of smell or taste can cause you to eat too much or too little, or cause you to over-season your food with salt or sugar,” Tam says. “This can affect your overall health.”

Appetite can also be affected by medical conditions including liver and kidney disease; heart failure; hypothyroidism; strokes; cognitive problems; and depression.

Change in appetite?

The first step is to see your doctor if changes in taste, smell, or overall appetite affect you. “Underlying health problems need to be ruled out, and your medications should be evaluated to see if there can be adjustments,” Tam says.

If it turns out that there is no obvious reason for weight loss or decreased appetite, you need to make sure your body gets the proper nutrients to stay healthy. Choose whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and plenty of lean protein. A little exercise can’t hurt, either, as research shows that mild or moderate exercise during the day can make you feel hungrier.

Dining with others for social and nutritional benefits

Eating alone doesn’t do much for your appetite. When people eat by themselves, they tend to eat less. The pattern seems to differ depending on gender. Studies have shown that men tend to skip eating entirely for a day here and there; whereas, women tend to eat, but eat less. A major reason women eat less is that many were accustomed to cooking for other people, but now they live alone.

People who eat alone are far less likely to choose nutritious food too. In fact, studies show that seniors who eat with other people consume an average of about 115 more calories per meal than those who eat by themselves. In addition, research shows that malnutrition results in a decreased quality of life, functional decline, worsening of chronic conditions, and an increased likelihood of hospitalization.

Looking forward to meals

So if you live alone, stop eating in front of the television. Give yourself something to look forward to and set time aside during the week to have a meal with other people. It’s time to start thinking of mealtime as a pleasurable and satisfying experience.

Dining is pure pleasure at the many restaurants on-site at Erickson Senior Living communities, with chef-created menus that offer exceptional flavor as well as proper nutrition. Find a community near you to request more information about our signature dining options and more.