Although eating disorders are usually associated with adolescents and young adults, they can affect people at any age. In fact, even seniors can suffer from eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa. Although the development and treatment of these disorders may be different for mature adults, they are still just as serious. In fact, because of a senior citizen’s age, he or she may even be at a greater risk of serious complications from eating disorders.
About Elder Eating Disorders
Elder eating disorders typically develop differently from eating disorders in younger populations. In younger populations, eating disorders are often the result of problems with body image and a desire to be thinner. However, even though this mechanism of development is possible among mature adults with an eating disorder, it is less common. In addition, seniors with eating disorders are more likely to have anorexia nervosa, which involves restricting food intake, and less likely to have bulimia nervosa, which involves purging after meals.
Elderly individuals are often reluctant to admit that they have an eating disorder, or they may simply be unaware that a disorder exists. For this reason, it is important for family, friends, and caregivers to watch for the signs of an eating disorder in senior citizens. Some of the most common symptoms of anorexia nervosa in the elderly include ritualistic eating practices, weight loss, defensiveness about eating behaviors, dizziness, fainting, pale skin, development of osteoporosis, thinning hair or hair loss and intolerance of cold temperatures.
Causes of Eating Disorders in the Elderly
Some of the most common causes of anorexia nervosa in seniors include:
- Dementia – Seniors with dementia may develop anorexia as their condition worsens. In these cases, the senior may lose the ability to eat or may simply forget to do so.
- Physical problems – Another common cause of anorexia nervosa in seniors is the development of physical problems that make eating uncomfortable. For example, the elderly often struggle with severe acid reflux, nausea, poorly-fitting dentures or other problems that cause them to avoid food.
- Medication – Certain medications often prescribed to seniors can cause appetite suppression. When seniors don’t feel like eating, they may become anorexic.
- Depression – Depression is a common problem among elderly individuals, especially when they are chronically ill or don’t have a strong social support system. In many cases, loss of appetite is a side effect of this depression.
- Concerns about physical appearance – Senior citizens are not immune from being concerned about the way they look. When seniors become obsessed with losing weight, they may develop an eating disorder.
Some seniors may develop eating disorders because of a combination of factors.
Treatment of Eating Disorders in Mature People
Because these disorders develop differently among the elderly, treating mature adults with eating disorders requires a different approach than treating these disorders in younger populations. In most cases, the first step to treating elder eating disorders involves determining the cause of the disorder. The cause of the disorder will determine what type of treatment is necessary.
For example, if the individual has developed an eating disorder because of an issue that makes eating uncomfortable, eating disorder treatment should involve treating the issue that caused the disorder, as well as medical care to help the individual recover physically and begin consuming a healthy diet. On the other hand, if the senior is suffering from an eating disorder because of body image issues, traditional eating disorder treatment approaches may be more effective for the individual.
Elder Eating Disorder Recovery Programs
Treating anorexia in the elderly requires specialized training and care. If you are looking for an elder eating disorder recovery program, it is best to search for one that offers customized treatment protocols based on the factors that led to the development of the disorder in the first place. It is also a good idea to look for a program that provides both psychological and medical care to patients. Monte Nido proudly offers recovery programs which are evidence-based, comprehensive and non-judgmental to those in need.