Senior and nurse speaking

How to Improve Appetite in Seniors

Rosanna Lee, RD

Written by: Rosanna Lee, RD

Updated: November 16th, 2022

Approximately 1 in 3 seniors in Canada has difficulty meeting nutritional needs.  Declining appetite may be one of the most common characteristics of aging. This phenomenon was first coined in the 1980s by researchers as the “anorexia of aging.” Changes to the body’s physiology, psychological functioning, social environment, presence of acute or chronic illnesses, and medication use are all known to impact appetite. Long term poor appetite can lead to lower energy and nutrient intake, increasing the risk for unintentional weight loss and malnutrition. Consequently, this increases one’s risk for frailty, falls, hip fractures, muscle weakness, bone decline (osteoporosis, osteomalacia), skin breakdown, pressure sores, longer length of hospital stay, and mortality. There could also be impaired wound healing, poor immune function, and reduced quality of life.

Physiological Factors

Digestive system


Disease activity or progression

Altered or blunted sense perceptions (taste, smell, vision, touch, hearing)

Reduced energy needs

Psychosocial Factors

Our environment and mood can affect appetite just as much as the physiological changes.



According to the Alzheimer’s Society, a person with dementia may lose interest in eating. Many causes are like the physiological factors mentioned earlier. They may have physical limitations like difficulty with picking up food, chewing or swallowing. It may also be related to depression, difficulty communicating with care providers (i.e., they may dislike a particular food, or they may be unsure what to do with the food), pain (discomfort of the body or in the oral cavity), fatigue and concentration (tiredness can reduce appetite to eat or impair mealtime concentration). Persons with dementia may consider behavioural strategies by working with an occupational therapist. This may include use of shortened instructions, visual and verbal cueing, or using support tools to optimize function and independence for eating.

Loneliness and Social Isolation

Portion sizes


Some medications are known to cause changes to taste and smell and may also cause nausea and impair appetite. Notable ones include antibiotics, antivirals, Parkinson’s medications, muscle relaxants, antihypertensives, diuretics, heart failure medications, cholesterol medications, antipsychotics, anti-inflammatories. It is best to have medications reviewed regularly by the pharmacist or doctor to lessen the side effects of appetite suppression.

About the Author:

Rosanna Lee is a geriatric dietitian specializing in the areas of chronic disease prevention and management. She works primarily with the elderly at the Centre for Seniors and Neuro Rehabilitation at Peel Memorial Centre (William Osler Health System). Rosanna works closely with seniors that are part of the Memory, Parkinson’s, Falls and Frailty, Osteoporosis, Continence, Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD), Neurological Rehabilitation, and Geriatric Outreach clinics. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, or Instagram. If you would like to be in touch, send her an email at    


  1. Bareuther, C.M. (2010, Summer). Dwindling Appetites. Today’s Geriatric Medicine: News and Insights for Professionals in Elder Care.
  2. Government of Canada. (2021, July 21). Canada’s food guide: Healthy eating for seniors. Government of Canada.
  3. McManus, K.D. (2019, June 20). Healthy eating for older adults. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School.
  4. Pilgrim, A., & Sayer, A.A. (2015). An overview of appetite decline in older people. Nursing Older People 27(5), 29-35.
  5. Ramage-Morin, P.L., & Garriguet, D. (2013). Nutritional risk among older Canadians. Health reports, 24(3), 3-13.
  6. (2019, November 1). A Matter of Taste.
  7. Woods, M. (2017). Improving Nutrition in the Elderly. Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital.

Related Articles:

View all News & Articles

Senior and Women man cooking in kitchen

Microbiota in Seniors

woman comforting elderly man

Preventing GI Disorders in Adults and the Elderly

Senior and adult cooking in the kitchen

Diet & Nutrition Tips for Seniors and their Caregivers

Senior and nurse speaking

How to Improve Appetite in Seniors

healthy food at dinner table

Nutrition Tips for Aging Well