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Eating Disorders Affect All Ages (Including Seniors) | Generations Home Care
Eating disorders affect people of all ages

When many people hear the term “eating disorder,” they think of young women struggling to meet unrealistic beauty standards. But however prevalent that image has become, the truth is that these conditions are far more widespread. People of all genders and ages can have an eating disorder–even seniors. And when it comes to eating disorders, seniors may be at an even higher risk for poor physical and psychological outcomes than younger people. Despite many years of going underreported and unstudied, it’s time to recognize the existence and dangers of elder eating disorders

Dispelling Myths About Eating Disorders

There are four primary types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and Restrictive/Avoidant Food Intake Disorder. What all of these conditions have in common is that they involve a negative or even damaging relationship with food and eating: not eating enough, eating too much and then purging, or fixating to an unhealthy degree on calories, carbs, or other components of food. 

Another common myth about eating disorders is that people who have them have to be thin. But with many kinds of eating disorders, such as bulimia, a person may appear to be a healthy weight.

The most prevalent myth about eating disorders is that a specific type of person tends to have them. Stigmas and stereotypes around eating disorders have created even more challenges in identifying and treating them. Many people might not even realize that they have an eating disorder simply because they don’t fit the stereotype. It can also make it harder to see the signs of a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. In addition to stereotypes about eating disorders making it more difficult to diagnose them, the stigma attached–that eating disorders are something embarrassing, shameful, or disgusting–adds further complications. Many people with eating disorders even go to great lengths to hide the signs from their loved ones. 

Seniors Can Develop Late-Onset Eating Disorders

Until recently, eating disorders were not recognized among older adults. Though there is still a lack of adequate research and recognition for elder eating disorders, awareness is steadily growing for the importance of treating them. 

Eating disorders can be especially harmful to seniors. One study found that 50 percent of elders who received treatment for eating disorders needed to be hospitalized. These conditions often coincide with other mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, which are also sadly common in older adults. Some eating disorders may be late-onset, in that they only appear later in life; but other seniors may have struggled with an eating disorder for years. 

Spotting the Signs of an Elder Eating Disorder

Though eating disorders can be tough to identify, there are a few signs that might suggest a person needs help. Some physical symptoms of an eating disorder may include: 

  • Fainting, dizziness, muscle weakness, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Trouble sleeping, or poor sleep. 
  • A persistent feeling of cold. 
  • Fluctuations in weight, either up or down.
  • Recurring stomach cramps, constipation, acid reflux, or other gastrointestinal issues. 
  • Brittle nails and hair, dry skin. 

These symptoms can indicate a senior in your life is grappling with an eating disorder, but they may also point to several other physiological conditions. In most cases, you may also notice behavioral or emotional signs in addition to the physical symptoms. Keep an eye out for: 

  • A fixation on calories, fat, carbohydrates, or other forms of dieting. 
  • Paying excess attention to body image.
  • A reluctance to eat around other people. 
  • Rituals associated with food, such as only eating certain foods or in specific ways. 
  • Abnormally small portions or skipped meals. 
  • Extreme mood swings. 
  • Withdrawal from hobbies and relationships. 

Eating can be a fraught activity for seniors. Seniors lose weight as they get older for many reasons, including difficulty preparing meals, loss of taste, and depression. Food might become a trigger for anxiety or depression, or cause gastrointestinal discomfort. While not all eating disorders result from negative self-image, it’s also important to note that people of all ages struggle with self-esteem, and seniors are not immune. 

Help is Always Available

Because eating disorders can be so difficult to identify, you may not be able to tell if your older loved one is struggling. In an isolated environment, a senior’s eating habits and self-esteem may become highly unhealthy with no one to notice the warning signs. If you’re worried about your loved one’s eating habits, an in-home caregiver may be able to help make sure their doing okay. 

A caregiver can help be a companion to your older relative, relieving their isolation and making sure they’re staying healthy and happy. Because caregivers spend their time in the home with your parent, they are poised to notice the warning signs of an elder eating disorder before it spirals out of control. An in-home caregiver can prepare tasty and healthy meals and help with meal planning and grocery shopping. Overall, caregivers help make sure your loved one maintains a healthy diet and outlook towards food. And in any case, when a senior is struggling with an eating disorder, they’ll be poised to make sure they get the help they need. 

About Generations Home Care

Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.

Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.

Our Specialty Services Include:

  • Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
  • Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
  • Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
  • Veteran’s connection to care program.
  • Live-in services and couples care.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.

About the author - Josh Friesen

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