Chapter 3: Symptoms and health concerns
Lack of appetite and loss of weight – What can help
Sometimes he’d want something in particular, so of course I’d make it for him. He’d take one bite and then that was it. It was a little frustrating at first, but I got used to it and continued to make whatever he felt like eating. Sometimes just a bite of a muffin was all he’d eat.
Healthcare providers may try a variety of things to help. Click on each phrase below for more information.
What the healthcare provider can do
The healthcare provider will usually perform a physical exam, which might include bloodwork. They may find problems that contribute to loss of appetite and that may be treatable. These might include constipation or blockage of the
bowels, medication side effects, or chemical imbalances of the blood such as a high calcium.
Certain medications or a combination of them may help with appetite and managing a person’s nausea. In some situations, medications including appetite stimulants, steroids, and antidepressants can be helpful.
In certain situations, liquid food may be given through feeding tubes inserted into the nose or through the skin into the stomach or intestine.
Unfortunately, if a person is losing weight because advanced disease has made their body unable to use calories the way a healthy person’s body can, then giving nutrients by feeding tubes or by intravenous will not help.
What families can do
- Offer small amounts of food more frequently.
- Encourage the person to eat for pleasure — this means whatever they feel like eating, rather than for nutrition or calories.
- Offer cold foods as these may be more appealing.
- Be aware of certain food smells that may make the person feel nauseated.
- Try encouraging drinks between meals rather than with them.
As death nears, eating and drinking may cause discomfort, and the person may eat and drink less or not at all. Family members often find this difficult and feel helpless at not being able to provide food for them.
People who are seriously ill often do not experience hunger or thirst in the way that healthy people do. Forcing someone to eat in these situations can make them feel nauseated and may contribute to feelings of distress.