When we think of eating disorders, we often think of young adults and teenagers. Generally, the topic of eating disorders (EDs) is commonly discussed with younger people, but they can occur at any age. In fact, eating disorders in elderly individuals is a growing problem in America. In many cases, eating disorders can go unnoticed or undiagnosed. Recognizing the signs and types of eating disorders common with the elderly can help you identify if your loved one is living with one.
Why Eating Disorders Are Dangerous
Eating disorders can be incredibly taxing on one’s physical and mental health. Generally, those suffering from eating disorders are not getting the right nutrition and can be hurting themselves in the process. Additionally, the effects of eating disorders can be exacerbated by the chronic diseases that your loved one is already dealing with in their daily life. Medications and their side effects can further increase these risk factors.
Common Signs of Eating Disorders
Signs of EDs may vary from person to person, and different EDs may lead to other symptoms. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are also common with aging and the diseases often associated with getting older. Because of this, it can be difficult to diagnose eating disorders in the elderly. Common signs of eating disorders may include, but are not limited to:
- Unexplained weight loss or gain, usually over short periods of time
- Hair loss or dental damage
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Cardiovascular strain
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- Chronic dizziness
- Loss of appetite
- Using the restroom after eating
- Poorly stocked kitchen
- The sudden or excessive use of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills.
Common Eating Disorders in the Elderly
The following sections detail the 5 most common eating disorders seen in elderly individuals.
Anorexia of Aging
While anorexia is a lack of appetite or decreased intake of food, Anorexia of Aging is a type occurring in elderly individuals, usually due to self-esteem. Like many eating disorders, self-doubt and low-esteem can lead to avoiding food or not feeling hungry. Because elderly individuals often have a less sensitive sense of smell and taste, they may be discouraged from eating. Additionally, because the body’s hunger receptors tend to become weaker with age, it is not uncommon for elderly individuals to not be fully aware of how hungry their body actually is. This ED can often be identified by intense weight loss, bloated stomachs, and faintness.
Binge-eating is the act of quickly consuming large quantities of food. It can often lead to a number of health issues, but the most common is fast unhealthy weight gain. This ED is often be caused by stress. It is often associated with Bulimia.
Bulimia is an eating disorder where the person purges their food or misuses laxatives. It may not always lead to drastic weight changes or changes in eating habits. Those living with Bulimia may suffer from nutrition deficiencies as they are not fully digesting meals as their bodies would normally. Bulimia can also lead to further heart complications among the elderly.
Orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession with healthy foods. Generally, this leads to the individual eating only a small selection of healthy foods, which leads to malnutrition. They may avoid eating in social settings if they feel that the food provided isn’t healthy enough. This eating disorder can often be associated with crash dieting.
Pica is a less common eating disorder, but can still be found in elderly individuals. This is an eating disorder that is identified by cravings to eat items that do not have nutritional substance. Common examples may include paper, hair, dirt, and coins. This can lead to a number of adverse health effects, such as damage to the digestive tract, the stomach, and more.
Elderly Men and Eating Disorders
Generally, eating disorders are associated with young women. However, men can suffer from eating disorders. Because of the stereotype, EDs in men are often less likely to be found. Occasionally, this bias can cause misdiagnosis. With elderly men, binge-eating is the most common type of eating disorder. Eating disorders can be more common in retired men who spent much of their life defining themselves by their careers. The decreased value felt by them in their retirement can sometimes lead to developing an ED.
Diagnosis of Eating Disorders
If you suspect that your elderly loved one is living with an ED, talk to their primary care physician. Their doctor will be more equipped to make an informed decision on your loved one’s condition. Generally, opening the lines of communication with your loved one can be helpful. Being open about your concerns can help your loved one become aware of the issue, but their doctor often is more effective in working with them to establish a way through this issue. Additionally, their physician may be able to recommend resources that may be available to them, such as nutritionists or counseling.
Additional Help at Home
If your loved one is living with an eating disorder, you may not be able to keep an eye out for signs all of the time. A home health aide can provide your loved one with companionship in their daily life and can look for signs of eating disorders. Additionally, their home health aide can provide help with meal preparation, which can help curb dietary issues.
Safe Harbor Healthcare Services does not provide medical, healthcare, or financial advice via articles. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for medical advice.
Safe Harbor Healthcare Services has been providing excellent home care on Staten Island since 1967. Our services help the elderly and disabled live safely and independently; while giving their families the peace of mind they need. For more information contact us by clicking here, or call (718)-979-6900.