Preventing Unintentional Weight Loss

Unintentional weight loss is common in the elderly, as well as those with chronic disease.  Weight loss is an important risk factor and increases mortality.  It is also associated with increased in-hospital complications, reduced physical function, inability to perform activities of daily living, higher rates of admission to institutions, and decreased quality of life.  Even a small amount of weight loss can be detrimental to an elderly patient or person with a chronic disease.

Often times, elderly or ill patients who live alone, lack the ability to obtain and prepare food.  Memory problems and depression can prevent a person from recognizing hunger cues or realizing that they have not eaten that day.  In addition, many common medications can cause loss of appetite.  A reduced sense of taste or smell, reduced chewing ability, and/or slowed gastric emptying make meal time less desirable and can lead to inadequate nutrient intake.

It is extremely important to determine the cause of the weight loss.  Many times, there is an underlying disease process such as cancer which causes the decline in weight.  Other times, poverty, poor dental health, difficulty chewing/swallowing, vision/hearing loss, arthritis, stress and unhappiness can be the cause of unintentional weight loss.  Verifying the cause will guide the management strategy.

Strategies to prevent/manage weight loss:

  1. Document weight weekly or more frequently if needed
  2. Provide readily available, easy to prepare meals and snacks
  3. A medication to stimulate appetite may be beneficial
  4. Consider the use of a multivitamin/mineral supplement to ensure adequate nutrient intake
  5. Use a liquid nutritional supplement in addition to meals and snacks
  6. Add the calorie boosters provided below to help maximize intake

Calorie Boosters:

Food: Add To:
Butter and Margarine Soups, Potatoes, Hot Cereals, Grits, Rice, Noodles, Cooked Vegetables, sandwiches, breads, pasta
Cream Soups, Sauces, Gravies
Combine with herbs and seasonings to spread on cooked meats, hamburgers, fish and egg dishes
Whipped Cream Use sweetened on hot chocolate, desserts, gelatin, puddings, fruits, pancakes, and waffles
Fold unsweetened into mashed potatoes or vegetable purees
Table Cream Soups, sauces, egg dishes, batters, puddings
Put on hot or cold cereal
Mix with noodles, pasta, rice, and mashed potatoes
Pour on chicken or fish while baking
Cream Cheese Spread on breads, muffins, fruit slices, crackers
Roll into balls and coat with nuts, granola or wheat germ
Sour Cream Add to cream soups, baked potatoes and potato dishes, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, sauces, dressings
Salad Dressings and Mayonnaise Spread on sandwiches and crackers
Use in meat, fish, egg, or in vegetable salads
Use as a dip for vegetables
Honey, Jam, Sugar Add to bread, cereal, milk drinks and fruit/yogurt desserts
Glaze for meats such as chicken
Granola Use in cookie, muffin, and bread batters
Sprinkle on vegetables, yogurt, ice cream, pudding, custard, and fruit
Dried Fruits Use as snacks with breakfast and in baked products
Eggs Mix extra eggs into batter for French toast, pancakes, custards, pudding, quiches, casseroles, macaroni and cheese, chicken/tuna salad
Beat into mashed potatoes, vegetable purees, and sauces (cook thoroughly after eggs are added)
Powdered Milk Add 2 – 4 Tbsp to 1 cup whole milk
Mix into puddings, potatoes, soups, ground meats, vegetables, cooked cereal, milkshakes, yogurt, and pancake batter
Cheese Give as snacks or in sandwiches
Add to casseroles, potatoes, vegetables, and soups
Wheat germ Add 1 to 2 Tbsp to cereals
Mix into meat dishes, cookie batter, and casseroles
Evaporated Milk Use in place of whole milk in desserts, baked goods, meat dishes and cooked cereal
Sweetened Condensed Milk Add to pies, puddings and milkshakes
Mix 1 to 2 Tbsp with peanut butter and spread on toast
Sour Cream Add to potatoes, casseroles, and dips
Use in sauces and baked goods
Peanut Butter Serve on toast, bagels, crackers, bananas, apples, celery
Instant Breakfast packets Add to milkshakes or milk
Gravies Use liberally on mashed potatoes, rice, noodles, and meats


Questions? Please call your Hospice of Huntington Dietitians:
Kellie Glass RD, LD 606.615.2585 or Amy McFann RD, LD 304.690.5063

Hospice of Huntington

P: 304.529.4217 Toll-Free: 800.788.5480

P.O. Box 464 | Huntington, WV 25709
1101 Sixth Avenue | Huntington, WV 25701