August 21, 2023 by Dean Bellefeuille

An older adult leans on her counter with a plate of uneaten food in front of her, perhaps indicating a senior with an eating disorder.

It’s common for older adults to experience changes in their weight and diet. Dental problems, medication side effects, less physical activity as a result of mobility issues, and other factors should be explored and either addressed or ruled out. But there’s another explanation that you may not have considered: eating disorders in older adults.

What Are Common Signs of a Senior With an Eating Disorder?

First of all, abandon any assumptions you have about eating disorders and the age ranges of those who are affected by them. Late-onset eating disorders are increasingly, and alarmingly, common. Anorexia nervosa is by far the most predominant, impacting 81% of older adults with eating disorders according to a recent study. Watch for the following red flags:

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

A seniors with an eating disorder is cause for particular concern according to Cynthia Bulik, professor of eating disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She explains, “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

Bulimia nervosa is less common than anorexia nervosa, but it brings further dangers for seniors, including heart problems. It’s important to grasp the differences between these two very serious conditions. Essentially, someone with anorexia strives to either lose or avoid gaining weight, while bulimia includes the additional element of binge eating. Additional distinctions include:

  • Anorexia involves consuming very little food, excessively monitoring weight, wearing baggy clothes, overexercising 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.

With both types of eating disorders, the older adult will pay special attention to their weight and shape, as well as the food they eat. They often may not recognize 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.

If you suspect an eating disorder in someone you love, contact the doctor immediately for an assessment and treatment options.

At Home Independent Living is always on hand to help as well. We can prepare meals that are both nutritious and appetizing, and provide companionship during mealtime to make it more enjoyable. Our caregivers also watch out for and immediately report any troubling symptoms.

Contact us online or give us a call at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to learn more about our home care services in Syracuse, Camillus, Clay, and the surrounding areas.