This is a common concern among those caring for someone near the end of life. A loss of appetite is a normal part of the process and it can be even more troubling for the caregiver than for the patient. There are things to consider, however, when you see a decline in eating. First and foremost, do not force another person to eat. This is not a good practice and is apt to do more harm than good.
Although a decreased appetite is normal in elderly or declining hospice patients, there are other potential causes that can be considered and possibly addressed.
Vision Loss This is an unexpected cause of decreased appetite, which is why we start with it. There are many conditions that can result in a slight- to severe loss of vision. When foods are difficult to see, they can be less appealing, and therefore a person may eat less. The look of the plate of food has a big impact on how much a person will consume. Consider serving brighter colored, contrasting foods that can be more easily discerned despite deteriorating vision.
Difficulty Chewing This is also common, particularly in elderly people. Tooth loss, inability to wear dentures, or even decreased jaw strength can make chewing a challenge. When food is hard to eat, a person will naturally eat less of it. Consider making foods that are softer and easier to consume.
Difficulty Swallowing Certain medical conditions, especially certain types of cancer, can make swallowing hard or painful. It is important to consider this when meal planning. It will be essential to introduce softer foods and may eventually be necessary to switch to a liquid-only diet to prevent choking.
Constipation Many illnesses can wreak havoc on the intestinal system, resulting in diarrhea or constipation. Both can cause stomach pains and discomfort that will make food less appealing. This can lead to medical issues and decreased appetite.
Nausea When a person feels ill, he or she will naturally avoid food. Whether vomiting is occurring or not, nausea will result in a decreased appetite. This is a problem that should be addressed with hospice and physicians. It may be necessary to have a medication prescribed that will alleviate nausea and therefore improve appetite.