You noticed that your elderly parent has a sudden weight loss and tends to disappear to the bathroom after eating. This sounds like signs of eating disorders you’ve heard about but they usually only affect the younger generation, right? You’re wrong! In reality, eating disorders don’t just apply to the young. They do not discriminate and are becoming more and more common in the elderly. Don’t be quick to rule out eating disorders as one of the reasons that are causing sudden changes in weight and eating habits in your elderly loved ones.
Eating disorders in the elderly are often overlooked and can lead to long-term health issues if left untreated. It’s therefore essential that you know how to identify signs of eating disorders early. Here’s what you need to know about eating disorders in the elderly – the signs, symptoms, and potential ways to overcome the illness.
Types of Eating Disorders
While there are various types of eating disorders, 3 of the most common ones experienced by the elderly are:
- Bulimia nervosa: Eating huge amounts of food, then attempting to get rid of the calories using unhealthy ways. This may be done through self-induced vomiting or laxatives.
- Binge eating disorder: Consuming large quantities of food very quickly to the extent where it brings discomfort.
- Anorexia nervosa: Having a distorted perception of body image and exaggerated fear of gaining weight. Using extreme methods such as exercising intensely and restricting food consumption to lose weight or prevent weight gain,
Signs of Eating Disorders
As eating disorders are usually misperceived to affect younger people, signs of eating disorders in the elderly may be overlooked. Furthermore, symptoms vary across individuals. The following are some warning signs which could mean your elderly loved one is experiencing eating disorders:
- Behavioral changes such as going to the bathroom after eating or having a preference to eat alone
- Dental problems and gastrointestinal issues
- Gaining or losing weight over a very short period
- Excessive hair loss
- Increased sensitivity to cold
Causes of Eating Disorders
There are similar causes of eating disorders for both the young and the aged. However, certain reasons are more prominent in the elderly. Older adults may develop eating disorders as an attempt to gain attention from family members. Other triggers include loss of loved ones, losing interest in life, poor dentures, and the pressure to look slim and youthful even as they age.
Managing Eating Disorders in the Elderly
Helping your elderly parent to overcome the emotional issues that give rise to eating disorders is one possible way to overcome the illness. You could also try to encourage their interest in food. Ask them about their favorite dish or cook a heart-healthy meal and share with them the nutritious benefits of the food.
Your elderly loved one could also be overwhelmed by huge portions of food and feel unwilling to eat. Try reducing meal portions to make food consumption less daunting. If your elderly parent resides in a retirement community, the caregivers and chefs may be able to create personalized meals or serve smaller servings of food that encourage intake.
It’s always good to seek medical advice early if you suspect your elderly parent has an eating disorder. The doctor can carry out a diagnosis and provide advice on treatment options to overcome the illness.