Food preferences of elderly people with a poor appetite

Some older adults have a loss of appetite which can be explained by different factors: a decrease of physical activity, diseases, medicines, isolation, etc.

But the loss of appetite usually occurs with a decrease of food intake which can lead to loss of energy balance and malnutrition. Which are the food preferences of elderly people with a poor appetite? How to give them back the pleasure of eating? A Dutch study tries to answer these different questions.   senior couple preparing meal in kitchen

About 350 people, aged from 65 to 101, leaving in nursing/residential care homes, hospitals or at home, have taken part to the study. Age, sex, Body Mass Index (BMI), nutritional status (Short Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire) and appetite (Likert scale) have been gathered for each person during a preliminary interview.

A computer-based questionnaire presenting different pictures of food with a high or low content of protein, fat, fibre, salty, sweet, with one or many elements in the plate, one or many colours… allowed to determine food preferences of the different individuals.

About one third of the respondents (n=113) were identified with a poor appetite. Individuals with a poor appetite were often more undernourished (44.2%) than the others (27.5%, p<0.001), mainly hospitalized (55.8%) or in retirement homes (28.3%).

People with a poor appetite also seemed to have a food preference for meals with many components (p<0.001) and with different colours (p<0.1).

Furthermore, all the respondents have a tendency to prefer sweet and solid food. In conclusion, hospitalized elderly people and those leaving in care homes seem to have a smaller appetite, and so, are at risk of malnutrition.

To give them back the pleasure of eating, it’s important to take into account their food preferences. Meals with many components and different colours, sweet and solid food could be an interesting strategy to stimulate their appetite. Nevertheless, be careful about the interpretation of these results, the questionnaire of this study enables to assess the food preferences of people but not their final consumption.

Besides, elderly people with cognitive or swallowing disorders (ex: Alzheimer’s disease, patients suffering from dysphagia) have been excluded from this study, so it can modify some results of the study (especially the food preference for solid food). The Nutrisens R&D team ensures the development of products as close as possible to older adults’ food preferences and products adapted to their physical and psychological abilities.    

Source: Barbara S. van der Meij et al. Specific food preferences of older people with a poor appetite. A forced-choice test conducted in various care settings. Appetite, Volume 90, 1 July 2015, Pages 168-175.