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.
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.