What To Do When An Elderly Parent Is Not Eating?

Elderly parent is not eating

What to do when an elderly person stops eating

Having a good nutritious diet is important no matter what age you are.  However, as we age our nutritional needs change.  Older people typically eat less and need fewer calories.  Maintaining a nutritious diet that is balanced gives the body the substances it needs to function by providing energy.  It also means you can manage your ideal weight.  Poor nutrition can result in health concerns like high blood pressures, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and some cancers.

Many people caring for an elderly loved one experience a change in their appetite and approach to food.  Maybe your loved one is not eating a balanced diet or is refusing to eat at all.  There are many reasons why they may have lost interest in food.  This includes changes in taste and smell, a side effect of certain medications, or a health concern like a UTI or constipation.  Whilst a persons need for calories decrease in older age due to reduced metabolism, it is still important that they continue to eat sufficient levels of food to maintain healthy weight and avoid unnecessary health issues.  It is important if you are looking after an elderly parent that you monitor their diet and encourage them to have a positive approach to eating well.

There are many ways in which a live-in carer can support an elderly parent not eating to ensure they maintain a healthy lifestyle and quality of life.  A carer will truly get to know your loved one’s needs and will be one hand to identify what is causing the loss of appetite or refusal to eat.  They can then look at what to do when an elderly person stops eating.  Our sensitive and compassionate carers will provide gentle encouragement and support to ensure your loved one gets the right foods at the right time.

Here we explore the reasons why an elderly parent may not be eating and explain what to do when an elderly person stops eating.  We also explain the benefits of live-in care in helping elderly people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


Why is my loved one not eating?

There could be many reasons that your elderly loved one or parent has stopped eating or has a negative approach towards food.

Loss of taste and smell

Loss of taste and smell is natural as we age and starts to decline after the age of 60.  There are many factors that can contribute to this:

  • Nasal and sinus problems, such as allergies or sinusitis
  • Medications taken by older people, such as beta blockers or angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Dental problems
  • Specialist conditions, such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease
  • Covid-19 symptom

This loss of taste and smell can have a significant impact on quality of life.  It can lead to decreased appetite and therefore poor nutrition.  Many foods may taste bland which reduces appeal in eating.  Loss of taste and smell may tempt your loved one to use excess salt or sugar to make it more appealing.  This is not advisable as can cause problems with blood pressure and is not recommended for those living with diabetes.

If your elderly parent not eating because of loss of taste or smell, it is advisable to cook foods rich in flavour to improve their approach to eating.  Use herbs and spices to make food more flavoursome.

Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips, and winter squash can benefit from some caraway.  Dill seeds can be added to rice and fish dishes. Another no- or low-sodium option is citrus juice, citrus zest, or flavoured and aged vinegars.

Vision loss

Problems with loss of vision make it difficult for a person to see what they are eating.  An elderly parent not eating may have vision problems common in older people for example diabetes, glaucoma or cataracts.  Poor vision can also cause problems for them to cook their own food without support.

There are a few things you can do to support your elderly parent not eating due to vision or sight loss:

  • Use high-contrast place settings, for example a dark place mat with a light plate. If you are serving dark foods use a light plate and when eating light foods use a dark plate.
  • Section food on the plate for your loved one. This can help them identify what they are eating.  Use the clock referencing system.  This considers the plate as a clock face with certain foods positioned in the same place around the clock face.

Encourage your loved one to use solid foods, like mashed potato as a barrier to help push food onto their fork.  The tip of a knife can be used to give an indication as to the size of food on their plate that they will be required to cut.  When scooping with a fork encourage them to press the tines down into the underside of the food.  If there is a ‘dragging’ sensation this will indicate that the food item is not fully cut from the main piece of food.


As we age, we are more prone to constipation, which can be uncomfortable and decreases the desire to eat.  Constipation is more common in older people due to the slow down of the digestive system.   It may also be a side effect of certain medication taken by an elderly person, such as antipsychotic medication prescribed for dementia or Parkinson’s medication.

Symptoms of constipation include bloating, abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness all of which impact a person’s desire to eat and can cause an elderly parent to not eat.

There are some simple steps you can take to prevent constipation in your loved one:

  • Increase their fluid intake
  • Promote regular physical activity or movement
  • Increase calories
  • Encourage them to eat more fruit – prunes or dried apricots are good examples of fruits that help with constipation
  • Increase fibre intake
  • If necessary, consider using laxatives, stool softeners or suppositories

Oral health Issues

Oral health issues can impact an elderly person’s ability to eat well.  Difficulties with chewing caused by poor oral health may be a reason why an elderly parent is not eating.  It is advisable to make sure they have regular dental check ups to avoid poor oral health.

Common oral health problems experienced by older people include:

Tooth decay

Tooth decay is one of the most common dental problems in elderly and can cause pain, infection and even tooth loss.  Tooth decay is caused by a build-up of plaque and tartar.   A sugary diet and a decrease in saliva production as we age contribute to the build-up of sugar acid in the mouth.

Dry mouth

As we age, many people will experience a decrease in saliva production.  This is commonly known as dry mouth or xerostomia.  Many medications that an older person may be required to take can cause dry mouth.  A dry mouth means that sugar and acids build up in the mouth more easily, resulting in tooth decay, receding gums or gum disease.  It can also cause sore, dry and cracked lips or a swollen tongue, which makes it difficult to swallow and can impact speech.

Receding gums / root decay

Receding gums is a process that occurs overtime, whereby the gums shrink away from the teeth.  Good home dental care is important to delay this.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease as it is more commonly known is caused by bacteria in plaque and tartar that builds up over time.  It is easy to detect as it causes the gums to become very irritated, red and in many cases causes bleeding of the gums.

There are some simple things you can do when preparing food for an elderly parent not eating because of oral health concerns.  It is important to cook foods that are soft to help with chewing so they can get the food and nutrients they need.  Common foods to prepare and cook include:

  • Scrambled eggs
  • Smoothies
  • Mashed potato
  • Slow cooked meat
  • Well-cooked steamed vegetables
  • Soups
  • Flaky fish
  • Yoghurt
  • Oatmeal

How live-in care can help when elderly parent not eating

Medication side effect

Some medications can affect an elderly person’s appetite.  This includes antidepressants, cardiac drugs, antibiotics and stimulants.  Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bad tastes in the mouth and a dry mouth.

A live-in carer will be able to work with your GP to understand what medications are causing the side effects.  They will be trained to identify changes in your health and respond to those changes seeking professional help where required.  They will effectively manage your loved one’s medication regime so that their medication is taken as and when required.  This can ensure that some side effects are minimised because medications are taken on time.

Social isolation and depression

Socialising is an important aspect of eating.   For many years, your loved one will have enjoyed socialising with friends and family while eating.  There may be reasons why this is not possible anymore.  This includes mobility/frailty issues, reduced independence, social isolation and loss of a loved one.  A person can easily become depressed if they face any of these situations.  Low mood is linked to a low appetite in some people and can mean an elderly parent is not eating.

With a live-in care service, a carer will be there to facilitate socialisation with friends and family.  They can plan and cook a meal for family, organise a celebration meal either at home or enable your loved one to get to a restaurant or visit local cafés with your loved one.    This will promote a positive mood and help build self-esteem, whilst ensuring your loved one is encouraged to enjoy food and mealtimes.

Unable to purchase or cook food at home

Many elderly people may be unable to go to the shops for food and groceries due to the mobility/frailty concerns or poor health that reduces their independence.  They may also be unable to plan, prepare and cook food for themselves.  Many families face having to support their elderly parent who is not eating because of this.  This can be difficult if you live far away from your loved one.  Some rely on meals being delivered to home.  Others cook for their loved one’s freezer to make sure they are getting the food they need.

A live-in carer can take care of all your elderly food and drink needs by assisting with planning food, going shopping for food and groceries and then preparing and cooking food.  They are there to monitor changes in your loved one’s appetite.  If there are negative changes and your elderly parent is not eating, the carer will work with their doctor or specialist gastroenterologist to find out what is causing the change in appetite.  They can work closely with your loved one’s registered dietician to find alternative ways to ensure their nutritional needs are being met.  A live-in carer providing one-to-one care around the clock is on hand to ensure any recommendations are implemented and progress is monitored.

Arranging live-in care at home

Once you have decided care at home is right for you and your loved one – we are here to help.

We will conduct a comprehensive assessment of your loved one’s needs. This covers not just their care needs, but how they wish to live their life. The assessment informs the care plan which will be created by an expert care manager, guided by clinical experts. The plan of care guides our professional care team to deliver the highest quality care at home.

Talk to us about our live-in care services

Find out more about how we can help your loved one to live well in the comfort of their home – call our friendly experts today.

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