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Publication #FAR8011

Promoting Healthy Appetite in Elders1

Linda Bobroff2

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Decreased appetite (or anorexia) is a topic we typically associate with headlines about teenage girls with a clinical condition called anorexia nervosa. Anorexia among the elderly is a very different situation, which can result from a number of causes, such as changes in taste, smell, or gastric function, dental problems, overmedication or drug interactions, illness, loneliness, or depression.

One complication of loss of appetite among the elderly is that the reduced calorie intake in older persons can affect their energy level, immune function, and overall quality of life. Also, unintended weight loss can be a risk factor for frail older persons.

There are steps that aging adults and/or their families can take to promote a healthy appetite and improve food intake. Prepare and serve tasty foods to stimulate appetite and improve enjoyment of food. Use a variety of herbs and spices in cooking rather than salt to avoid unwanted effects on blood pressure. Dental researchers recommend tongue brushing to improve taste acuity in older persons.

Since older family members may get full more quickly than they did when they were younger, small meals and snacks are appropriate. If loss of appetite is severe, have the pharmacist check all medications to see if they may be the cause. Perhaps one or more medications can be changed or adjusted.

And, finally, help the elderly fight loneliness and depression. Sharing meals with friends or family members can promote healthful appetites in older persons who may spend a lot of time alone.

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of UF/IFAS Extension, the UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you'd like to learn more, please visit our website at

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This document is FAR8011, one of a series of the Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date December 2007. Reviewed February 2018. Visit the EDIS website at In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified.


Linda Bobroff, professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.