Dementia & Appetite Loss: Causes, Signs and What To Do

May 17, 2023

Your loved one’s caloric intake may decrease as they age. However, if they have dementia, they may struggle to get the basic nutrients they need each day.

Why Do People with Dementia Lose Their Appetites?

A loss of appetite is common in people with late-stage dementia. Cognitive decline can make it more difficult for your loved one’s brain to coordinate the muscles and motor function in their mouth and throat. That may result in dysphagia, a condition characterized by difficulty chewing and swallowing.

Other Causes of Appetite Loss

Mouth pain or discomfort: Poor dental hygiene may lead to mouth sores, tooth decay and gum disease, making eating painful.

Constipation: According to a recent study, roughly 25% of people with dementia experience constipation, but it’s often not reported right away. That condition could cause stomach discomfort and negatively impact appetite.

Depression: Your parent might lose interest in meals if they’re struggling with emotional and mental health issues.

Reduced sense of smell: Exposure to food smells can increase appetite and induce salivation. A loss of smell may affect your mom or dad’s interest in meals.

Trouble with communication: Your parent could struggle to communicate effectively as their dementia progresses. Their lack of interest in food may be their way of showing they don’t like what they’re eating or they’re in pain.

Signs of Loss of Appetite and Trouble Eating

  • Loss of interest in food
  • Easily distracted during meals
  • Coughing or choking on food
  • Refusing to swallow
  • Excessive tongue movement
  • Drooling
  • Spitting out food
  • Refusing to swallow
  • Grimacing while swallowing

What to Do When Your Loved One Stops Eating

It’s important to discover the cause of your parent’s loss of appetite. Take your mom or dad to the dentist to rule out dental issues that might affect their ability to eat. Talk to your loved one or their care team about how frequently they’re having bowel movements to determine if they’re constipated.

Get your parent involved during meals. Preparing food and setting the table may help your mom or dad work up an appetite and focus on eating.

Don’t let memory loss affect mealtime. Use these tips to encourage eating:

  • Serve food in small portions.
  • Provide soft or pureed foods that are easy to chew and swallow.
  • Cook your loved one’s favorite foods.
  • Prepare foods with strong flavors and scents.
  • Stick to a meal routine and serve food at the same time each day.
  • Use images to help your loved one select their meal.
  • Serve meals when your parent is most energized.

Dietary and Nutrition Care at Embassy Healthcare

Eating the right foods is an effective way to boost memory function. The dietary services at Embassy Healthcare are customized to your parent’s unique nutritional needs and eating habits. Our chefs prepare three home-cooked meals daily, and residents can supplement their diet with nutritious snacks.

We employ licensed nutritionists who work closely with our chefs to provide your loved one with tasty foods that provide the vitamins and minerals your parent needs to stay healthy.

Call 216-378-2050 to learn more about our nutrition services or schedule a tour online.