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Office of Geriatrics and Interprofessional Aging Studies

Office of Geriatrics and
Interprofessional Aging Studies

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Eating disorders are often thought to be a disease of the young however, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders may manifest in older years, too.  The main types of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – obsessive need to lose weight by not eating.
  • Bulimia – fasting or binge eating followed by vomiting as a weight loss strategy.
  • Binge Eating – intake of large amounts of food over a short period of time.
There are several triggers that lead to a loss of appetite for older adults that could lead to an eating disorder in later years:

  • Increased losses and grieving
  • Depression
  • Empty nest
  • Divorce
  • Widowhood
  • Loneliness
  • Lack energy to cook
  • Retirement
  • Chronic illness
  • Medication side effect
  • Changing taste buds
  • Poor dental health
  • Problems swallowing
  • Disability
  • Death of an adult child
  • Aging
  • Facing mortality
  • Financial stress

Additionally, an older adult that had an eating disorder when younger may experience a re-emergence of their eating disorder.  So, how can you tell if an older adult is having trouble eating and/or may have an eating disorder?  Some of the signs include:

  • Significant change in weight (up or down) over short period of time
  • Changes in behavior (disappearing after a meal or using the restroom right after a meal)
  • Keeping laxatives, diet pills, or other diuretics on hand
  • Preferring to eating alone rather than with family or friends
  • Missing meals
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Excessive hair loss
  • Tooth decay or other dental damage
  • Heart or gastrointestinal problems
  • Exhibits depressive symptoms
  • Has anxiety disorder
  • Seeking/planning unnecessary surgeries, i.e., plastic surgery

The effects of eating disorders for any age group may result in chronic malnutrition, which can lead to altered brain functioning, earlier onset osteoporosis, and frailty in older adults.  If laxatives are being abused, there may be irreversible gastrointestinal damage. 

Review the Medical News Today article for more information about eating disorders and older adults.

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