Learn About The Different Types Of Eating Disorders In The Elderly And What You Need To Know About The Causes And Treatment
Are you concerned about your loved one’s appetite? Are you aware of eating disorders in the elderly? Learn here what you need to know from Pegasus senior care professionals in Monrovia and elsewhere.
Three primary eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Traditionally, the illnesses were thought to be diseases of young women. Eating disorders are now recognized as affecting all:
- Socioeconomic levels
Many experts believe that most eating disorders result from the stress of trying to control something. The stress is caused by different factors for each individual. What individuals eat is sometimes the only thing they can control.
As individuals age, they are often coping with the death of friends, family, or their spouse. They are also facing stressors such as an empty nest, retirement, financial hardship, disability, and other medical issues. They may also be coping with downsizing and loss of independence.
Anorexia Is One Of Several Disorders
Individuals with anorexia are usually very thin but obsessed with losing more weight. They go to extreme lengths to control their weight by severely limiting how much they eat. They may also exercise excessively, use laxatives and diet pills, and vomit after eating.
Those with bulimia often don’t appear severely underweight. They typically go without eating, then binge by eating huge amounts of food. They immediately purge themselves with laxatives or vomiting, as well as sometimes exercising excessively.
A binge-eater may be normal weight or even overweight. They eat large amounts of food, often in secret. They typically don’t purge afterward.
Some individuals suffer from rumination, in which what they’ve eaten is regurgitated. The regurgitation is involuntary and not forced by gagging themselves. They may swallow the food or spit it out.
Avoidance disorder refers to individuals who aren’t interested in eating. Some are afraid of choking. Others dislike the smell, appearance, or taste of food.
All of the eating disorders, except binge eating, result in weight loss. Individuals with rumination and avoidance disorders aren’t trying to lose weight.
As anorexia is the most common eating disorder, excessive thinness is an obvious symptom. Additional symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, or binging include:
- Changes in behavior that include running to the bathroom after eating
- Dental issues
- Excessive hair loss
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Overuse of laxatives or diet pills
- Preferring to eat alone
- Sensitivity to the cold
Not everyone has all the symptoms, and your loved one may have other symptoms related to their relationship with food.
Not Eating Can Result From A Physical Condition
It’s important to keep in mind that not every problem with food is an eating disorder. Other conditions include:
- Difficulty chewing, due to ill-fitting dentures, missing teeth, painful cavities or gums
- Decreased production of saliva and dry mouth
- Inability to shop or prepare food
- Impaired ability to swallow
- Indigestion, reflux, or other gastrointestinal issues that make eating unpleasant or painful
- Loss of ability to taste or smell
- Medications that either destroy the appetite or make food taste “off”
Some may refuse food as a protest against the person preparing it. Others reject food as a way of getting attention. In some cases, individuals may refuse to eat as a method of “silent suicide” to escape their feelings or situation.
The Consequences Of Not Eating Are Serious
A lack of nutrition, whether from an eating disorder or another condition, can have serious consequences. These include:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Digestive difficulties
- Imbalances in electrolytes or hormones
- Impaired immune system
- Kidney failure
- Loss of muscle strength
Aside from their inherent seriousness, many of these conditions also lead to weakness that results in falls.
Observing your loved one’s eating habits is the best way to discover if there’s a problem. Understand that they may be embarrassed at some conditions, such as shaking, that makes eating difficult. Or they may know they have an eating disorder and feel ashamed about it.
You may need to look in the refrigerator or pantry to see if they even have food. Participate in meal preparation to evaluate their abilities to choose and cook food. Patience is your friend.
Treatment is dependent on the cause of poor eating habits. A visit with a healthcare provider is essential to rule out or treat medical conditions. A dietitian can teach how to establish and maintain healthy eating habits.
Your loved one may need psychotherapy. They may undergo cognitive behavioral therapy, which typically teaches them healthy stress management.
No medication will cure an eating disorder. Medications can treat the symptoms. For example, an antidepressant helps with the depression that is both a cause and a result of eating disorders.
If an eating disorder has put your loved one in a life-threatening condition, hospitalization may be the only answer. Depending on how ill your loved one is, outpatient care may be available.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Pegasus senior care in Monrovia and our other locations is designed to keep your loved one safe at home. We’re here to help, regardless of the level of care needed.