Mom lives alone and looks severely malnourished. How do I know if she's eating?


Q: My mother lives alone. When I go over to check on her, she tells me she is eating but I know she isn’t. She is severely malnourished. What can I do?

A: This is a very important subject and I'm glad you asked. Senior nutrition is a concern for many families. As we age and especially when a senior lives alone, the idea of cooking food, eating alone and then cleaning up becomes overwhelming. Our appetites lessen as we age and eating becomes more of a chore than a pleasure.

If you know that your mother is not eating, then you're going to have to take steps to ensure that she is getting nutrition. Malnutrition among seniors is extremely common and if she is taking medication, it's a strain on her system. You can attempt to explain all of this to her and she may smile, tell you she's eating and then do exactly as she pleases.

What often works is to ask her what she would like to eat. If her favorite foods were in her refrigerator or her pantry and they were easily accessible, she might be more inclined to eat. For example, if she likes soup, then have it in the refrigerator ready for her to heat it up. Maybe it's a little dessert that she wants, but it's too much trouble to prepare it.

It's not necessary for her to eat three large meals a day. Unless she's on a special diet, you can prepare food for her, deliver it every few days and then check and see if she's eating. Foods that were once easy to chew and digest might be causing her problems as well. You are going to have to be a detective here and figure what is going to work for her. Make it easy. Have fresh fruit in the house. Make her a large smoothie and put it into smaller glasses in the refrigerator and she can grab one when she wants something. You are going to have to help her.

If she continues to lose weight or it's clear that she's not eating, then you'll have to take her to the doctor and have a conversation and a check-up. It's possible that there is something medically wrong. It's also possible that she's just lonely and doesn't want to eat alone. If this is the case, you can make arrangements for friends or family to come by and eat with her. Having company works wonders for a senior's outlook on the dining experience.

Cindy Laverty is a Caregiver Coach and Founder of The Care Company, an online support website for family caregivers. Through programs, coaching and products, Cindy is dedicated to empowering family caregivers.

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


There is a great company that delivers nutrient-dense, FRESH (not frozen), affordable meals to the home and they deliver in all lower 48 continental United States. They specialize in nutrition for frail elders at home and for disabled people. The meals stay fresh in the refrigerator and take 2 minutes in the microwave to be ready to eat. I do not want to violate the guidelines for submitting information to this website, but if there is an appropriate way that I can share the name/website of the company, it is a great resource.
My sister would often stop to see her 90-year-old friend and mix up a nice whey protein shake for her. The woman started to count on this, and did very well with that nutritional boost. She made it thick, like a pudding, and room temperature. I believe the combination of the social and bonding aspect of this little gesture, and the intense nutrition of the shake, made all the difference in her life.
i have clients that are 87 and 85 years old. they get no exercise except for a tiny walk and therapy. the women eats nothing except desserts and is skinny. she has demenia and skakes alot. the man eats but still eats alot of desserts, he had a strike before and is partially paralyzes in one side. he complains alot of lower pain right below his stomach. what can sugar do to them? the family thinks that they should eat sweet so they don't lose weight.