Dementia and appetite

Why do people with dementia often lose their appetite?

This is a common side effect that comes with dementia, and it can be due to a number of reasons, such as physical difficulty with swallowing or chewing, depression, pain, tiredness, or reduced physical activity, all of which are associated with dementia and can result in a loss of appetite.

Of course, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, and loss of appetite can be dangerous if it continues over a long period of time. Staying as healthy as possible allows a person with dementia to put their best foot forwards in terms of alleviating other symptoms of the illness, so a loss of appetite can lead to further problems such as weight loss, reduction in muscle strength, tiredness, and weakened immune system.

How to encourage appetite:

There are several easy ways to encourage a person with dementia to eat when they have lost their appetite, but ultimately this is a choice they have to make for themselves. Some things you can try are as follows:

Reducing portion size: presenting somebody who is struggling to eat with a huge mountain of food will immediately put them off, as it seems unachievable. Instead, try a very small portion, as they can always have more if they finish it.

Listen to their preferences: if they are craving a particular food, try and get it for them, as eating a favourite food might encourage them to branch out to other foods. Even if they just want dessert, without eating a savoury main meal, do not try and discourage them from this, as any interest in food is better than no interest at all.

Don’t push: if it is clear that the person does not want to eat at a particular time, do not keep pushing them. This can increase anxiety and distress the person, and in turn this will further discourage them from eating. Instead, try again at a later time when they might be in a better frame of mind.

Remember that appetite can increase and decrease with time, and a person living with dementia might go through cycles of appetite changes. Just because they seem to have lost their appetite, it doesn’t mean it won’t come back; however, seek medical advice if you notice changes in weight or mood that are associated with poor appetite.

For more information or if you wish to discuss care for your loved one please email