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Nutrition and Older Adults



My mother is in her 70s and has been losing weight. She says she`s not hungry. How can I encourage her to eat more?


It’s not unusual to lose our appetite as we age. Most of us lose something of our senses of taste and smell as we get older, which can reduce the enjoyment we often get from food. Also, sometimes older people find themselves living alone for the first time in their lives. Since so much of our pleasure from food and mealtimes has a social aspect, it can be easy to skip meals when alone.

Still, don’t write this off as just “old age” setting in. An inadequate diet can trigger a poor appetite, as can a zinc deficiency. Be sure there’s not a medical problem. Otherwise, you can help your mom by making sure she has plenty of nutritious food available and helping her keep as socially active as possible.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has some special recommendations for older adults to keep in mind:

  • Adequate nutrients: Be sure your mother consumes extra vitamin D from vitamin D-fortified foods and/or supplements, because many older adults aren’t exposed to enough sunlight to allow their skin to make its own vitamin D. A good multivitamin/mineral supplement might be in order too. All nutrients are less well absorbed as we age, so when this is combined with a declining appetite, vitamins and minerals could be in short supply.

  • Physical activity: Encourage your mom to participate in regular physical activity. All adults benefit from regular exercise, and older adults can reduce physical declines associated with aging by keeping their body moving.

  • Sodium and potassium: Older adults should aim to consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, and meet the potassium recommendation of 4,700 milligrams a day by eating foods high in potassium.

  • Food safety: Older adults are more susceptible to the effects of foodborne illness, and should refrain from consuming raw (unpasteurized) milk or any products made from unpasteurized milk; raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs; raw or undercooked meat and poultry; raw or undercooked fish or shellfish; unpasteurized juices; raw sprouts; and certain deli meats and frankfurters unless they’ve been thoroughly heated (steaming hot).

This question originally appeared in Chow Line (5/8/05), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2005.

For more information:

Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic.