The appetite is controlled by several factors in the body. It is a complex interplay of hormones, signals from the gut and brain centers which also involves the sense of taste, smell and even sight. A healthy appetite is where a person desires food but is satisfied (satiety) once enough food is consumed to maintain the blood sugar levels and provide energy for a period of time thereafter. A common problem among seniors is a loss of appetite (anorexia). It is usually a gradual decline in the appetite and the development of poor eating habits but in some instances it can arise in the short term.
As a person gets older, the body’s ability to regulate many functions becomes impaired. The metabolism is one of these systems and the appetite is affected accordingly. This often leads to problems with energy levels and is one of the reasons why the elderly tend to feel fatigued more easily. However, appetite is controlled and determined by a number of factors.
Although none of these factors should be considered normal, the reality is that it occurs in almost every elderly person to some degree or the other. It is therefore accepted as a part of aging.
Sometimes a loss of appetite is associated with specific diseases or medication and is not just a sign of age related changes in the body. It can arise as the first symptom when no other symptoms are present. A loss of appetite is often considered to be non-specific meaning that it does not clearly indicate a cause. It occurs in many diseases, not only those affecting the gut, metabolism, hormones or brain.
Although many diseases may cause a loss of appetite, the elderly need to be cautious of certain conditions which are more likely with advancing age. This includes :
Not all of these conditions which cause loss of appetite are physical ailments. Emotional states such as grief, depression and dementia can als0 compromise the appetite. Furthermore the elderly, who are often on various medication for a host of chronic diseases, may experience a loss of appetite as a result of side effects.
There is no specific treatment for loss of appetite in the elderly. Any treatment should be directed at the causative condition and the appetite may subsequently improve. However, in cases where the loss of appetite is not associated with any disease and just appears to be another change in the body’s physiology with age, a few simple measures can help improve appetite or at the very least avoid problems associated with poor nutrition.