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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Nutrition Challenges When You're Older or Sick

10 strategies for overcoming loss of appetite.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Like many things in life as we get older, eating can be a challenge.

The sense of taste, like the other senses, diminishes as we age. Appetite and taste can also be affected by medications. In addition, dental problems can make it difficult or painful to chew food.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Exercises to Lower Your Blood Sugar

It’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise, whether you’re 45 or 95. First of all, it simply makes you feel good to move. By becoming more active, you can also lower your blood sugar to keep diabetes under control. “You don’t need to run a marathon to get results,” says Dawn Sherr, RD, of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “Walking, swimming, and playing with the grandkids are all great ways to get exercise.” Follow these four steps to get started.

Read the Exercises to Lower Your Blood Sugar article > >

Loss of appetite can make it difficult to get adequate nutrition, especially when you’re sick or not feeling well. What can you do to be sure you’re getting the nutrients you need?

“No single strategy works for everyone,” says Kathleen Niedert, RD, director of clinical nutrition and dining services for Western Home Communities in Cedar Falls, Iowa, who counsels many seniors on how to deal with loss of appetite. But for almost everyone, there are ways to eat an adequate diet even when you’re ailing and don’t feel like eating. Here are 10 strategies that experts recommend.

1. Give Yourself Permission to Indulge in Favorite Foods

If you’re having trouble eating enough to get the calories you need each day, don’t worry about the fine points of nutrition advice. Eat anything and everything that appeals to you. Love chocolate milk? Help yourself. Ice cream? Serve up a bowl.

“If you’re experiencing a loss of appetite, the most important thing is to eat foods that supply basic energy to the body,” says Niedert. “Most dietitians now say people in institutions like nursing homes should be encouraged to eat whatever they like, since many have a problem with appetite.”

2. Enjoy Meals With Friends

“If you’re well enough to prepare meals but have trouble getting motivated, find neighbors or friends in a similar situation and invite them over,” says Nancy Wellman, RD, past president of the American Dietetic Association. “Meals aren’t just an occasion for eating. They’re also a key part of how we stay connected with friends and family.”

Studies confirm that people who live with someone else or who eat meals in community settings tend to eat a healthier diet.

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