Many of us associate the words “eating disorder” with teenagers, but research indicates that an increasing number of older people are being diagnosed with eating disorders too.
Obesity is an eating disorder. We all know, from the many articles written, that people seem to be getting fatter all the time. The topic is addressed often, but the focus is usually on children and young adults. On the opposite end of the spectrum is extreme weight loss. Many older seniors are “too thin.” The gaunt starving features of a youngster are readily noticeable, but a thin older person gets lost in the crowd. A certain amount of weight loss is expected as a person ages and as a result it is often overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Older people aren’t as conscious of weight fluctuations because they have gotten over the idea that “who they are” is dependent on a number on the scale. On the other hand, a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition are more important than ever. It makes you wonder why so many older people refuse to eat.
It isn’t unusual to hear the words “I’m full,”” I feel sick,” or “I have no appetite.” If you are saying or hearing these words from a friend or family member, it is time to investigate. It is important to evaluate why older people are restricting their food intake.
Illness may reduce appetite, and certain medications have been known to blunt taste and smell. Food restriction may be due to psychological issues, medical problems, or a combination of both. Older adults often experience unsettling changes in their lives, and controlling food may be their way of coping with stress. Beyond that, refusing food may be away of asserting control over something – food intake. Refusing food may be a way of gaining attention or even a passive effort of committing suicide.
Malnutrition in older adults can be a symptom of a physical or psychological illness, but it could be something as simple as not having nutritious meals readily available. However, problems with food could indicate boredom, anxiety, anger, loneliness, shame or sadness. Malnutrition is a serious illness, especially if the person is already battling health problems. Early problem solving of unexplained weight loss is vital.
The knee jerk reaction is to introduce supplemental drinks into the picture, which is not a bad thing, but try to dig a little deeper. Malnutrition is often a symptom rather than a disease entity in its own right and a professional diagnosis is necessary. The true treatment is to get to the root of the problem, to understand where it comes from, what purpose it serves and what to do about it. A treatment plan will be implemented that will likely include frequent meals and snacks, nutritious drinks and having nutritious meals readily available.