Why Isn’t Mom Eating? 4 Common Senior Eating Problems and How to Resolve Them

elder woman eating alone and looking out the window | 4 Common Senior Eating Problems and How to Combat Them

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It’s a beautiful day for a family BBQ and everyone is excited to be together. With the grill going and everyone sitting around the table, it’s nice to be spending the day and sharing a meal with your relatives. While everyone is happy to snack and sample different foods throughout the day – you notice your mom is just sipping on one glass of lemonade. The plate you made for her is untouched and she says she’s full from a big breakfast.

We often associate eating problems with young people, but our senior family members can struggle with eating issues as well. If you don’t know the warning signs, the eating problems can go unnoticed and undiagnosed. Knowing what to look for can make a life-changing difference to your aging family members. Take a look at the four most common senior eating problems, their early warning signs, and what you can do to help resolve them.


Look For These Warning Signs

Was your elder family member feeling too full to grab anything more on their plate at your last family gathering? Did you notice they were withdrawn or less talkative than usual? Did they excuse themselves after the meal or put off coming to the table? These could all be warning signs of common senior eating problems.

As we grow older, our sense of smell diminishes and our number of taste buds decreases. This means your relatives might not enjoy their food as much. Trying to force them to eat more leaves you both feeling frustrated. If the process of eating becomes a chore or lacks reward, it’s understandable that our aging relatives would not be as eager to eat.

Short-term effects of eating disorders include weight and hair loss with an increase in sensitivity to the cold. Our older family members often have a weakened immune system, and the long-term effects of eating disorders and malnutrition will exacerbate their poor immunity while also weakening their bones. This elevates the risk of breaking bones with any minor fall. If left untreated, senior eating problems can also lead to conditions like heart arrhythmia and poor blood circulation.


Senior Eating Problems: Chewing Difficulties

elder woman having difficulty swallowing | 4 Common Senior Eating Problems and How to Combat Them

Have your elder relatives complained to you about tooth problems or pain while eating? Have you noticed they touch their jawline or cheekbones more often? Their oral health should be on your radar and might be a primary cause of eating difficulties.

As our family members age, problems with their teeth become more noticeable. They are likely to experience receded gums, loosened teeth, ill-fitted dentures, and lower amounts of saliva production. Therefore, they might be chewing slower to ease the pain or discomfort caused by the underlying problem.

Regular checkups with the dentist every six months are essential. The dentist will examine the apparent reasons for tooth problems and other oral health conditions such as oral cancer or chronic disease.

A simple fix might be to get good-fitting dentures, as this provides comfort while eating. Encourage them to eat meals with you so they can bring up issues privately instead of in front of a large group. Look for what they enjoy eating and what they claim to be too full to digest.

One of the resources your local 12 Oaks Senior Living community offers is a dedicated team of caregivers sharing meals with your mature relatives. Our support personnel provides an extra pair of eyes and ears to notice early warning signs of discomfort or changes in appetite.


Senior Eating Problems: Slower Digestion

old woman having digestive problems | 4 Common Senior Eating Problems and How to Combat Them

As we grow older, our digestive system slows down and stops producing enough microbiota. The microbiota is responsible for metabolism and breaking down carbohydrates—aging and changes to diet cause this process to slow down.

Slower digestion can lead to constipation or acid reflux. If your older family member begins to complain about these symptoms, there are some options. You can increase daily movement and hydration to their daily routine to avoid constipation. Changing their diet to avoid eating citrusy, spicy, or fatty foods will help prevent acid reflux.

It’s important to talk to your relatives’ primary care physician, who can help you understand if current medications are the main cause of stomach issues. Ask your elder relatives if you can accompany them to their next doctor appointment and bring up your concerns.


Senior Eating Problems: Elderly Eating Disorders

elderly man eating with both hands alone | 4 Common Senior Eating Problems and How to Combat Them

More studies are being conducted to understand anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating among the elderly. Your aging relatives would be at a higher risk if they experienced these conditions when they were younger. Look for these warning signs:

  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Hair loss
  • Dental issues
  • Gastrointestinal concerns
  • Only eating when alone


Most of the warning signs can be misdiagnosed as separate issues making it critical to know your relative’s history with eating disorders. Both men and women are susceptible to eating disorders. Be aware of the following triggers:

  • Significant life changes- grieving a spouse or pet, divorce, and loss of mobility.
  • Moving out of their house
  • Reduced social activity or isolation


These changes can make our aging relatives try to control something. This may present as binge eating or calorie counting. If you are concerned about your family members battling an eating disorder, please seek medical assistance for them.

Your local 12 Oaks Senior Living Community provides experienced daily caregiver assistance so your family members are comfortable and supported. Our team has a diverse educational background and 24/7 registered nurses. We are ready to be a comfort and resource if your elder relative receives an eating disorder diagnosis.


Senior Eating Problems: Dry Mouth

senior man eating soup | 4 Common Senior Eating Problems and How to Combat Them

As we age, our body produces less saliva. The good news here is that you can make small changes and see significant results. Increase your family member’s diet to include more smoothies or soups. It is also helpful for them to eat sugar-free sour candies or dill pickles to help increase saliva production. If left untreated, dry mouth can evolve into xerostomia and impact speech and taste permanently.

Helping your aging relative with their eating problems is hard work and requires patience, but the result is worthwhile. Consider grocery shopping and monitoring how quickly they eat what’s in the fridge, or try to schedule meals together during the week. When you visit, try to make a friendly competition out of drinking water or make smoothies for both of you. Even with these steps, you won’t know what’s happening when you’re not together.

With a dedicated team and chef-designed nutritious menus, your local 12 Oaks Senior Living Community can be a sense of comfort for your entire family. Our chefs and professional caregiving team are educated in all manners of senior eating issues and problems. Our number one priority is taking excellent care of residents in our communities by providing the environment and expertise for them to thrive.



Searching for senior living help? At 12 Oaks Senior Living, we would love to learn more about your unique needs and the opportunity we may have to help you meet them. Our blog is one of the valuable resources we provide to inform and encourage seniors to lead fulfilling and thriving lives. Contact us today to schedule a virtual tour.



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