While many assume adolescents are affected by eating disorders most frequently, the most common victims of eating disorders are the elderly. And yet it is rarely spoken about, causing many to overlook irregular eating behaviors in seniors. Many assume their senior loved ones have grown to be a picky eater with age, and eat smaller portions due to medication side effects. However, many of these signs could indicate a much more serious health problem that can be super detrimental to the overall health of a senior.
The reasons for a senior not maintaining a healthy diet are varied. It can be due to weakened teeth, problems with digestion, or medication that inhibits their appetite. Some seniors suffering from dementia or memory loss simply forget to eat. Others simply lack the money to buy food, cannot cook for themselves due to the difficulty of preparation, or don’t have access to a grocery store. There are numerous barriers that can prevent seniors from eating well and all of them need to be addressed.
Eating disorders are most typically a psychological issue. Eating is very much a social activity, and the thought of eating alone can be unappealing. Older adults who are depressed or lonely can find it quite difficult to get up and make a meal, just to eat it in solitude.
Eating may become an issue of control. As seniors find themselves losing autonomy over their lives, whether to younger loved ones or to the staff of their assisted-living facility, skipping meals can be anything from a form of protest to a cry for help.
The biggest issue surrounding eating disorders in the elderly is that they are kept secret and overlooked. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy – this is why it is so important to monitor a senior’s eating habits. Of course, it’s just as important not to seem like one is prying, or inordinately pushing oneself into a senior’s life. It will only exacerbate the problem. Some successful solutions to this challenge include helping the senior with their grocery shopping, or helping them prepare meals, and joining them while they eat.
It’s important that caregivers and family members look for the signs of an eating disorder, such as easy bruising, weight loss, dental issues, and difficulty healing. Keeping track of your senior’s eating habits and be sure to help them maintain a nutritional and healthy meal plan.