It’s not uncommon for older adults to experience changes in their weight and eating habits. Medication side effects, dental problems, less physical activity due to decreased mobility, and other factors should be explored and either addressed or ruled out. But there is another possible culprit which could surprise you: eating disorders in older adults.
How Do I Know if an Older Adult Is Battling an Eating Disorder?
To start, let go of any preexisting assumptions you have about eating disorders and their predominant impact on the young. Late-onset eating disorders are increasingly, and alarmingly, common. Anorexia nervosa is by far the most predominant, affecting 81% of older adults with eating disorders in a recent study. Be aware of the following red flags:
- Refusal to eat meals, or wanting to be alone at mealtime
- Hair loss
- Stomach and/or dental problems
- Use of laxatives
- Using the bathroom immediately after a meal (which may indicate purging)
- Expressing adverse thoughts about their body image
It’s especially concerning when an older adult is battling an eating disorder, according to Cynthia Bulik, professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She explains, “One of the main concerns is that eating disorders take a tremendous toll on just about every bodily system. In old age, these body systems are less resilient to begin with…so eating disorders can erode them more quickly and more seriously.”
The Distinct Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia
Bulimia nervosa may be less common than anorexia nervosa, but it brings major dangers for seniors, including heart problems. It is important to grasp the differences between these two very serious conditions. In a nutshell, someone with anorexia strives to either lose or avoid gaining weight, while bulimia includes the additional component of binge eating. Further distinctions include:
- Bulimia displays through episodes of overeating and then either vomiting or using enemas or taking laxatives to eliminate the binged food.
- Anorexia involves consuming very little food, excessively monitoring weight, wearing baggy clothes, over-exercising to the point of exhaustion or fainting.
For both eating disorders, the older adult will be hyper aware of the shape and weight of their body along with food. They frequently may not notice that there is a problem, making it even more important for friends, family members, and caregivers to be vigilant in detecting signs and symptoms of an eating disorder.
If you have concerns that an older adult may be battling an eating disorder, contact the doctor immediately for an assessment and treatment options.
Golden Harmony is always ready and willing to help as well. We can prepare meals that are both nutritious and appetizing, and offer companionship during mealtime to make it more enjoyable. Our caregivers also watch for and immediately report any troubling symptoms.