Elderly people are just as likely to develop eating disorders as other age groups, even if they haven’t experienced it before. Family caregivers may not even recognize the symptoms of geriatric eating disorders but the consequences are dire for seniors if left untreated. The health effects of eating disorders are especially severe for the elderly due to age-related conditions. Learning about common eating disorders in the elderly can make family caregivers more aware of what to watch out for in their aging loved ones.
According to one study, 78 percent of deaths due to anorexia take place in elderly people over the age of 65. That’s 3 out of 4 deaths from anorexia-related complications in the United States. Anorexia is when someone declines to eat or only eats a small portion. Because the body is denied nutrition, it goes into starvation mode. Effects include dry skin, dry hair, hair loss, dehydration, osteoporosis, muscle loss, weight loss, constipation, low blood pressure, slow pulse, irregular sleep patterns, upper respiratory infections and eventually organ shut-down.
Warning signs for anorexia in seniors includes eating small portions of food, refusing to eat with others, refusing to eat at all, excessive water intake, hiding food from plate, preoccupied with calories, and suddenly disliking food they previously enjoyed. Family members can compare notes with senior care assistants to get a better idea of whether the senior is demonstrating any symptoms.
Bulimia is when someone binges on food and then purges it from the body, either by vomiting or with laxatives. The actions prevent the body from breaking down food into digestible quantities. The food passes out of the body without supplying it with nutrients needed to stay healthy. Malnutrition in seniors is quite serious as they are already a high-risk group for it due to physical limitations and appetite issues. Health consequences of bulimia in seniors include tooth decay and esophageal inflammation from stomach acid, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, electrolyte imbalance, ulcers, pancreatitis, and more.
Warning signs of bulimia in the elderly include the use of laxatives, diuretics, going to the bathroom right after meals, upper respiratory infection, dry cough, chapped lips, mouth sores, constipation, gastrointestinal distress, low energy and fatigue. If caught, often the senior with bulimia will blame vomiting on a stomach bug or food poisoning to cover up the purging.
Helping Seniors With Eating Disorders
If a family caregiver has gotten enough insight into the eating habits and issues with their aging loved ones from other family members, senior care aides and even the senior themselves, it’s time to bring in professionals. Physicians, therapist and nutritionists can all provide the help and support the elderly loved one requires to physically and emotionally recover.
Eating disorders are not just for young people and ignoring the possibility that it can happen to seniors means that way too many cases go undiagnosed and untreated. Seniors of every culture, race, gender, age and background can develop an eating disorder that can cause plenty of physical and mental harm unless family caregivers notice and then intervene on their behalf.
If you are considering hiring caregiver services in Pennsylvania, call the caring staff at Extended Family Care of PA at (888) 660-6478.