As people get older, normal changes may impact their eating and toileting habits. The use of dentures sometimes limits older folks’ ability to chew certain foods, which can make eating unpleasant or even create a choking hazard. Qualified healthcare providers can advise seniors on diet modifications to overcome these challenges.
Also normal is reduced physical activity leading to a reduced appetite, but a significant loss of appetite or lack of interest in eating should be monitored. A 5% or 10% increase or decrease in body weight within one year is generally not concerning, but fluctuations greater than 10% could indicate a medical disorder.
Persistent difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, is not normal and should be evaluated by a physician. This hazard can be difficult to detect in those with cognitive limitations, but some clues are pocketing food in the cheeks, drooling and gagging or coughing while swallowing. Speech therapists and special diets are often prescribed for people with dysphagia, so it’s important to seek help.
Once chewed and swallowed, food moves through older adults’ digestive systems more slowly, and weakened intestinal muscles often make bowel movements more difficult and infrequent. These changes in bowel habits are normal and may be improved by incorporating more fiber into the diet, drinking plenty of fluids and incorporating a fiber supplement if needed. Chronic constipation and diarrhea are not normal and might indicate an underlying medical problem.