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Is a Senior You Love Struggling With an Eating Disorder?

An older adult struggling with an eating disorder stands over a plate of assorted fruit and a glass of water.
Make sure you know the signs of a senior struggling with an eating disorder.

Changes in an older adult’s weight and eating habits are normal as they age. Dental problems, medication side effects, less physical activity as a result of mobility issues, as well as other factors need to be explored and either addressed or ruled out. But there is another possible cause which could surprise you: eating disorders in seniors.

How Do I Recognize if a Senior Is Struggling With an Eating Disorder?

First, let go of any assumptions you have about eating disorders in our society and what age groups are most impacted. Late-onset eating disorders are increasingly, and alarmingly, common. Anorexia nervosa is by far the most predominant, affecting 81% of older adults with eating disorders according to a recent study. Keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Laxative use
  • Using the bathroom right after a meal (which could indicate purging)
  • Dental and/or stomach problems
  • Refusal to eat meals or wanting to be alone at mealtime
  • Thinning hair
  • Expressing negative thoughts about their body image

It’s especially concerning when seniors are struggling with an eating disorder according to Cynthia Bulik, professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She explains, “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 Distinct Differences Between Anorexia and Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is less common than anorexia nervosa, but it brings more dangers for seniors, including heart problems. It’s important to understand the differences between these two very serious conditions. In a nutshell, someone with anorexia seeks to either lose or avoid gaining weight, while bulimia includes the additional component of binge eating. Other distinctions include:

  • Anorexia involves consuming very little food, excessively 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 taking laxatives or using enemas to eliminate the binged food.

With both eating disorders, the seniors impacted will be overly concerned about their body shape and eating habits. They often may not notice that there is an issue, which makes it all the more important for family members and caregivers to be vigilant in detecting signs and symptoms of an eating disorder.

If you’re concerned about a senior struggling with an eating disorder, contact the doctor immediately for an assessment and treatment options.

Home Sweet Home In-Home Care is always on hand to help as well. We can prepare meals which are both appetizing and nutritious, and offer companionship during mealtime to make it more fulfilling. Our caregivers also watch for and immediately report any troubling symptoms. Contact us online or at (866) 229-2505 to learn more about our home care services in Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, St. Joseph, and the surrounding areas.

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