If you see your elderly parent or family member every week or so, you probably won’t notice any unintentional weight loss until it becomes more significant than just a few pounds. Once you do notice, you’ll want to be sure they eat enough nutritious food to get back to a healthy weight. It seems like high-calorie food will help them gain weight faster, but which ones meet the nutritional needs of older people?
The following high-calorie foods are ideal for the elderly:
- Lean protein
- Cold-pressed oils
- Seeds and nuts
- Potatoes and starches
This guide will explore why seniors are sometimes reluctant to eat, how to increase their appetite, and which high calorie drinks can augment their weight gain. There’s lots of great information to come, so keep reading!
Why Do The Elderly Not Want To Eat?
Remember those long-ago family dinners with your parents? The ones when they’d relish having the family together and sharing all kinds delicious meals? Now it seems like they barely want to eat three small meals a day.
My parents were like that – Mom used to have half a sandwich at lunch and a small bowl of cereal for breakfast. She ate better at dinner, but did no snacking during the day. She used to say she “just wasn’t hungry”. I see the same thing in my 95-year-old aunt now. But, why is that?
Here are some reasons elderly people may be reluctant to eat as heartily as they once did.
Medication Side Effects
Your senior loved one is likely on a variety of medications for their medical conditions, right? Their pills and other meds can cause side effects that include a loss of appetite.
In other cases, their meds might lead to diarrhea or constipation. Their digestion can be impeded, or the meds could kill their appetite.
No Energy To Cook Or Eat
As we age, we tend to decrease our physical activity. This leads to a corresponding decrease in muscle mass and weakness.
An older person might want to eat, but the physical effort required could be too much for them. They may struggle to get up. Walking all the way to the kitchen can be difficult. Once there, they might not be able to stand on their feet for a long period to cook healthy foods.
If they did muster up the energy to cook, then they’d expend so much energy doing that that they might barely have any energy left to cut and chew their food. So they feel that It’s better not to eat and just stay where they are. At least they can conserve what little energy they have.
Read about Eating Utensils For Arthritic Hands.
We’ve talked about depression in older adults many times on this blog. Seniors may be depressed due to physical and mental changes in their health, losing friends and loved ones, or realizing their own mortality. If they’ve recently moved into assisted living or a nursing home, that could cause depression as well.
When one is depressed, they sometimes don’t want to eat. It’s worth it to check in with your senior from time to time to talk about their mental state. If they’re being treated for depression (and have don’t have an undiagnosed health condition), then your senior parent’s appetite could come back.
Taste Bud Changes
Did you know that as you get older, the number of taste buds you have decreases? This starts as early as one’s 40s and then continues into their 50s and later.
What taste buds do remain break down or shrink so you don’t have the sense of taste the way you used to.
Tasting food is half the experience and smelling it is the other. When a senior loses the gift of being able to taste food, then everything they eat is the same whether it’s a small snack or a high-calorie meal. It doesn’t matter as much, so they lose interest in eating.
Seniors who have trouble swallowing may have dysphagia. Dysphagia can occur due to a medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. Those who have had a stroke may have a lot of trouble swallowing, as well.
In the case of swallowing concerns, a pureed food diet is often beneficial.
True dysphagia (not just the occasional mis-swallowing) needs to be assessed and treated by the senior’s doctor.
How Can The Elderly Increase Their Appetite?
You prep meals for your senior parent only for them to barely pick at what you served. It’s upsetting, especially as your parent becomes skinnier by the day.
While you can try some methods to improve their appetite, we should note that a reduced appetite is normal – to an extent – in the elderly. They’ve slowed down and become less physically active, and so they naturally eat smaller meals and fewer calories as a result.
However, your senior should still eat. Here’s how you can convince them to do that.
Create A Meal Schedule
More than likely, your senior appreciates a sense of routine, as the schedule breeds familiarity and thus comfort. Why not make a schedule for mealtime as well?
More than likely, before their appetite changes went into effect, your senior followed such a schedule. They’d wake up at about the same time each morning and eat, then have lunch, and later, dinner.
Work with your senior to determine a new meal schedule that works for them. Remember, if it’s not agreeable to the senior, then they won’t want to follow through with the mealtimes.
Give Your Senior The Freedom To Choose Their Meals
Aging means a senior may not have as many food options as they once did. For example, they might struggle to chew hard foods, so they don’t eat those anymore.
Explore with your senior parent or loved one the rich world of food. Take them to a grocery store or visit a new store. Branch off into cuisines and different types of food from different parts of the world. Whether your senior can eat solid foods or not, there’s still something new for them to try.
Try Appetite Stimulants
You might also talk to your senior’s doctor about prescription appetite stimulants. According to a 2009 report in the journal Pharmacotherapy, the appetite stimulants mirtazapine and megestrol acetate can be effective in those with a poor appetite.
Decorate The Table
Every now and again, go out of your way to create a special ambiance that might make your senior smile. Lay out a nice tablecloth, dust off the fine china, and make a fancy meal.
Although your senior won’t be able to taste everything the way they used to, they will appreciate the extra effort you went through to make mealtime fun again.
Eat With Them
Perhaps your senior doesn’t eat as much because they’re tired of spending mealtimes alone. When you can, sit down and have a nutritious meal with your senior. Even a snack is better than nothing!
What Should The Elderly Eat To Gain Weight?
Your senior parent or loved one is more open to the idea of eating again, so you want their diet to be rich in nutritious yet high-calorie foods that will help them gain weight. Per the intro, here are the options we recommend.
Protein sources fatty and lean alike can lead to weight gain, but you want your senior to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet, so we’ll stick to lean protein.
Lean protein allows a senior to build their muscles. The body takes the lean protein it doesn’t need and keeps it as fat, and that’s where the weight gain comes from.
Although experts don’t agree whether dairy products can cause weight gain, lean protein dairy sources like cheese and whole milk are still good to include in a senior’s diet. Protein bars and oily fish are other great sources of lean protein.
Virgin or cold-pressed oils are more flavorful and contain about 120 calories per tablespoon. That might not seem like much on its own, but when cold-pressed oils are incorporated into your senior’s meals day in and day out, the calories do add up.
We do want to note that there is a difference between cold-pressed oils, like olive oil, and other types of oils. Canola oil, for example, will lead to weight gain too, but it might also progress Alzheimer’s, says this Los Angeles Times article.
Seeds And Nuts
If your senior can still chew hard foods, then seeds and nuts are a fantastic choice to incorporate healthy fats into their diet. Here is some caloric information for seeds and nuts per serving:
- Chia seeds – 138 calories per ounce
- Flaxseeds – 55 calories per tablespoons
- Pumpkin seeds – 285 calories per cup
- Brazil nuts – 186 calories per ounce
- Cashews – 157 calories per ounce
- Hazelnuts – 178 calories per ounce
- Macadamia nuts – 204 calories per ounce
- Pistachios – 159 calories per ounce
If an older person has dental problems and can only chew soft foods, nut butters, like almond butter, can be a great way to get extra calories and important nutrients. While it might be tempting to go for the more common peanut butter, it has more fat than almond butter.
If your senior isn’t already eating avocados, they certainly should. This fruit is rich in potassium, magnesium, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamins B6, C, E, and K. A cup of sliced avocado, which is approximately 146 grams, contains 234 calories.
Avocado is enjoyable morning, noon, and night. Try making an avocado breakfast sandwich or avocado toast for breakfast. When lunchtime rolls around, avocado and egg is a filling meal for your senior. You can even make avocado pudding or chocolate truffles.
Potatoes And Starches
Your senior should get their greens, but vegetables are not exactly calorically heavy. Well, until you get to starches like the potato, that is. A medium-sized potato contains 163 calories.
At their age, your senior might struggle to chew on a firm potato. You can roast the spuds until they’re soft and tender or even make mashed potatoes that require very little chewing.
Sweet potatoes can be enjoyed as a snack, as a side with a meal, or even as a dessert with some cinnamon sugar or marshmallows.
Which Boost Drink Is The Best For Weight Gain?
Not all the calories your senior ingests have to come from food, of course. You can also feed them liquid calories. No, not from soft drinks or sugary juices, which will decay their teeth and are full of empty calories.
Instead, they can increase their calorie intake by drinking smoothies, dairy such as milk, and weight-gain beverages like Boost.
On any grocery store shelf, you’ll see plenty of Boost-type beverages. Which nutritional supplement can accelerate weight gain in the elderly the most?
That would be Boost’s Very High Calorie beverage. Living up to its name, this drink has 530 calories per bottle. Each bottle also contains 22 grams of protein and 26 minerals and vitamins.
Here is a complete list of minerals and essential vitamins included in one serving of the Very Vanilla flavor:
- Vitamin B12
- Sodium molybdate
- Vitamin D 3
- Vitamin K1
- Chromium chloride
- Sodium selenate
- Potassium iodide
- Folic acid
- Thiamine mononitrate
- Pyridoxine hydrochloride
- Copper sulfate
- Vitamin A palmitate
- Magnesium sulfate
- Calcium pantothenate
- DL-alpha tocopheryl acetate
- Zinc sulfate
- Ferrous sulfate
- Magnesium oxide
- Choline chloride
- Sodium citrate
- Potassium phosphate
- Sodium phosphate
- Sodium ascorbate
- Magnesium chloride
- Calcium citrate
- Potassium citrate
The elderly can stop eating frequently for a multitude of reasons, including medication-induced appetite loss, eating difficulties, depression, and lack of energy.
By using appetite stimulants and other methods to get your senior eating, you can add more high-calorie menu items so they can keep their body weight up or even put on a few extra pounds.