What to Do When a Senior Has an Eating Disorder

An older woman stands in front of a plate of food thinking about eating a grape. When a senior has an eating disorder, a change in eating habits may be the first sign.

How can you know if a senior has an eating disorder? These tips will help.

Shifts in eating habits and weight are common as people get older. Dental problems, medication side effects, less physical activity because of mobility issues, and other factors should be explored and either addressed or ruled out. But there’s another possible culprit which could surprise you: eating disorders in seniors.

How Can I Know If a Senior has an Eating Disorder?

First, remove any preconceived notions that are common in our society about eating disorders and their predominant impact on the young. Late-onset eating disorders are increasingly, and alarmingly, common. Anorexia nervosa is by far the most prevalent, affecting 81% of older adults with eating disorders in a recent study. Watch for the following red flags:

  • Using the bathroom right after a meal (which could indicate purging)
  • Use of laxatives
  • Hair loss
  • Expressing negative thoughts about their body image
  • Refusal to eat meals, or wanting to be alone at mealtime
  • Stomach and/or dental problems

It’s especially concerning when a senior has an eating disorder, according to Cynthia Bulik, professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She states, “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

Though less common than anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa brings added dangers for older adults, 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 element of binge eating. Further distinctions include:

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

In both types of eating disorders, the person affected will be fixated on the weight and shape of their body along with food. They frequently will not notice that there is a problem, which makes it all the more important for family members and caregivers to be vigilant in detecting signs and symptoms of an eating disorder.

In the event that you suspect a senior has an eating disorder, contact the doctor right away for an evaluation and treatment options.

CareWorks Health Services is always readily available to help as well. We can prepare meals that are both nutritious and appetizing and offer companionship during mealtime to make it more fulfilling. Our caregivers also watch for and immediately report any troubling symptoms. Contact us at (949) 859-4700 for more information on our in-home care services in Mission Viejo, Laguna Woods, Seal Beach, as well as the surrounding areas.