Senior Center

What to Do with Seniors Who Don’t Eat

By Jan Bolder - March 10, 2014

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When a senior isn’t eating, whether by choice or inability, it can be a hugely frustrating and scary experience to be involved in. However. sometimes getting to the root causing of the lack of eating may clear up some of the problems, although this isn’t always the case.

Difficulty Eating or Chewing

If you’ve ever had a canker sore inside your mouth or a tooth removed, you know how far down the list eating drops. For seniors, though, the problem can extend to ill-fitting dentures or a need of dentures, too. If this is the case, seniors may gravitate towards foods that are softer and easier to chew--or not at all--and avoid the ones that provide nutrition.

If this is the case, try replacing foods with similar items in respective food groups. For example, steak or raw vegetables might not be a possibility anymore, but hamburgers and sauteed vegetables can.


(Note: The following is not medical advice, nor should it be construed as such) Some medications, like prednisone, can cause a big uptick in appetite, while others, like chemotherapies, can reduce it. As seniors are more likely to be on medications than younger adults, it’s worth going over the list of side effects and discussing them with your senior’s doctor to see if this is the case. In some cases, there may not be anything the doctor can do but gently advise eating, as the medication may be necessary for your senior.


Our bodies are host to millions and millions of various bacteria and viruses. In normal, everyday situations, they swim along happily, content to do their job without causing havoc. But every now and then, rogue bacteria and viruses break away from the pack and do a job other than their own, and can cause pretty unpleasant situations.

Some bacteria and viruses only linger for the short-term before the body fixes itself and equilibrium is restored, while others take longer. The good news? Many bacteria can be prescribed something by the doctor to speed up the process. The bad news? Not much exists for viruses, as they’re neither living nor dead.


If your senior is affected by this, mustering up the energy to cook for themselves, let alone eat a full, balanced meal and clean up afterwards may seem like an overly arduous task. Simplifying the situation, what’s needed for the first two issues is a “spark” to get your senior back in the groove of their normal personality, such as dining with them regularly or taking them out to a restaurant. If it’s depression, a doctor should be consulted for the best course of action as it will require more than just a spark.

Loss of Senses

Sight and smell are very closely linked to taste, and losing one or both can impact the desire to eat. Sometimes, there may be a physical cause behind this and a doctor might be able to pinpoint what’s going on, but other times, there may not be much that can be done other than cooking with strong spices and choosing brightly-colored food.

Physical Inability

One of the signs that a senior isn’t able to care for themselves independently anymore is when their diet is affected. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to drop everything, pack their bags, and shuffle them off into a home. There are programs, like Meals on Wheels and Magic Kitchen, that help out seniors with food and daily/weekly meals.