Eating disorders and older people
Eating disorders are usually thought of as problems afflicting teenagers and people in their twenties. However, there are significant numbers of middle aged people, especially women, who never recovered from adolescent eating problems or who develop these disorders for the first time in middle age.
Defying our belief that age brings wisdom, a recent study at the University Medical Clinic at Innsbruck, Austria, shows that women between 60 and 70 years of age have eating behaviors and body image attitudes similar to those of much younger women. (Eating Disorders Review, Nov/Dec 2004)
In addition, there are people in mid to late old age whose behavior suggests anorexia nervosa or bulimia, disorders that are still relatively rare in a senior population. Read on for discussions of problem eating in people well past adolescense.
- Eating disorders and middle-aged women
|Treatment and recovery|
|An elderly relative of mine has suddenly lost his appetite. He is losing quite a bit of weight, and I am concerned. Do older people get anorexia nervosa?|
|Yes, but it is rare in elderly people. There are other, more common, reasons why seniors stop eating. They include|
- An undiscovered illness or infection can cause loss of appetite.
- Some medications cause loss of appetite.
- Others cause stomach upset or pain that discourages eating.
- Missing or decaying teeth make it difficult to eat.
- Poorly fitting dentures may cause pain so the person avoids eating.
- Alcohol is an appetite depressant.
- Memory lapses may be a factor. Person cannot remember if s/he ate.
- Lack of enthusiasm for grocery shopping and food preparation can discourage eating
- Poverty is a problem for many seniors. They have little money to buy food.
- Depression is a major appetite depressant. So are loneliness and lack of meaningful connections with other people. Some older folks have given up on life and resigned themselves to approaching death. All of these psychological states are treatable.
Arrange to have your relative evaluated by a physician. If you suspect depression, include a psychiatrist or other mental health counselor in the process. Go with your relative to the appointments and tell the doctor and counselor what you have observed. Best wishes to both of you.