Q: "I take my 92-year-old aunt shopping every week. In the last few weeks she has been buying less and less. I often find mouldy food in her fridge which she has not eaten. When I ask her about this she says she has no appetite and is too tired to cook. She says this is normal as you get older. Is this true? Can you suggest anything to help her get her energy back? She used to be very vibrant and full of energy."
A: Katrina Pace, a dietitian specialising in older people's nutrition, responds:
"Many people think that you eat less as you get older, and losing weight as you get older is part of natural ageing. To a certain extent this is true. Ageing can interfere with the way the body regulates food intake or weight. Energy (kilojoule) needs do tend to go down as you get older, but unexplained weight loss is never a normal thing. There are several things you can do to help your aunt get back to her vibrant self.
Make sure she goes to her GP and gets a full check -p to make sure there is no underlying reason for her poor appetite and lack of energy. Among other things, she will probably be checked for iron and vitamin B12 deficiency, two common causes of lack of energy often found in older people.
Make sure that when you do the shopping for your aunt you buy her lots of little snack foods. She should try and have small, frequent meals (3 meals + 3 snacks a day). This will help make sure she gets enough kilojoules if she isn't eating big meals. If she has lost weight then make sure she has lots of 'goodies'; the types of foods that normal weight, healthy individuals should usually keep to a minimum are fantastic for people who have lost weight. Think cream, cakes, dairy foods, biscuits, full-cream milk and chocolate! Encourage her with microwave meals, which are a quick and easy way to get a hot meal without cooking, and fantastic if you have no energy. If she doesn't like the idea of microwave meals, there are many companies who deliver pre-prepared fresh or frozen meals. Finally, make sure she feels supported by her family and has company at some meal times, either from family or friends or community".