Shifts in weight and eating habits are common as people grow older. Medication side effects, dental problems, less physical activity because of mobility issues, and other factors need to be explored and either addressed or ruled out. But there’s another possible cause that could surprise you: eating disorders in older adults. Would you recognize the signs of an eating disorder in someone you love?
How Do I Determine Whether It’s an Eating Disorder?
First, eliminate any preconceived notions that are common in our society 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 prevalent, impacting 81% of older adults with eating disorders according to a recent study. Watch out for the following red flags:
- Stomach and/or dental problems
- Refusal to eat meals, or wanting to be alone at mealtime
- Hair loss
- Expressing adverse thoughts about their body image
- Laxative use
- Utilizing the bathroom right after a meal (which could indicate purging)
Eating disorders are especially harmful for older adults, according to Cynthia Bulik, professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She states, “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 Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia
Though less common than anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa brings added dangers for seniors, including heart problems. It’s important to grasp the differences between these two very serious conditions. In a nutshell, a person with anorexia seeks to either lose or avoid gaining weight, while bulimia includes the additional element of binge eating. Other distinctions include:
- Anorexia involves consuming very little food, continuously monitoring weight, wearing baggy clothes, over exercising to the point of exhaustion or fainting.
- Bulimia displays through episodes of overeating and then either vomiting or using enemas or taking laxatives to eliminate the binged food.
In both types of eating disorders, the person affected will be fixated on the shape and weight of their body as well as with food. They frequently may not recognize that there is a problem, making it even more important for friends, family members, and caregivers to be vigilant in detecting signs of an eating disorder.
If you suspect an eating disorder in someone you love, contact the doctor immediately for an assessment and treatment options.
Serenity Home Care is always readily available to help as well. We can prepare meals that are both appetizing and nutritious, and provide companionship during mealtime to make it more fulfilling. Our caregivers also look for and immediately report any troubling symptoms.