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Seniors, Too, Can Experience Disordered Eating

Fasting to lose weight, following strict food rituals, binge eating, purging: When we hear about disordered eating, we typically think of a teenage girl or young adult. But boys are just as likely as girls to experience disordered eating, and the condition affects people of all ages—including seniors.

Disordered eating refers to a range of abnormal or unhealthy eating behaviors and attitudes, such as restrictive dieting, binge eating, and obsessive thoughts about food and weight. These behaviors and attitudes can cause physical and psychological harm and may lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, which are serious mental illnesses.

“There is no age limit to disordered eating,” reports the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). In fact, “research shows that rates of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction occurring later in life are on the rise.”

According to NEDA, disordered eating in older adults may be triggered by a lifestyle event, including divorce, menopause, retirement, grandparenthood and others. They may have experienced disordered eating at other times in their life and then relapsed. Or aging may cause changes in their appetite, sense of smell, or metabolism that affect their eating habits. Even dental problems can be a contributing factor.

Signs a Senior Adult May Have an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders can be difficult to identify, but especially so with seniors. The signs may be subtle, and they may brush off questions with excuses about normal aging, their medicines or other factors. A senior who lives alone may also find it easier to conceal their illness. However, there are some signs that an aging adult may have an eating disorder, including:

  • Rapid weight loss or gain.
  • Cooking elaborate meals for others but not eating themselves.
  • Extreme changes in eating habits, such as skipping meals or binge eating.
  • Obsessive thoughts about food, weight and body size.
  • Using laxatives, diet pills or other weight loss aids.
  • Refusing to eat certain types of food or food groups.
  • Excessive exercise or avoiding social situations that involve food.
  • Symptoms of anxiety or depression, such as low mood, irritability or difficulty concentrating.

If you or someone you know is experiencing disordered eating, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. Treatment may include therapy, medication, and support from family and friends.

How You Can Help

If you suspect an older adult has an eating disorder, it’s important to offer support and encouragement to seek help. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Express your concern in a caring and nonjudgmental way. Avoid criticism or blame, and focus on the individual’s health and well-being.
  • Offer to go with the person to see a health care provider or mental health professional.
  • Encourage the person to seek treatment, such as therapy or medication.
  • Support the individual’s recovery by offering to help with meals, grocery shopping or other tasks as needed.
  • Encourage the person to talk about their feelings and provide a safe and supportive environment to do so.
  • Educate yourself about eating disorders and how to support someone with an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association is a great place to start.
  • Encourage the person to join a support group or look online for other helpful resources, including hotlines for people with eating disorders.

It is important to remember that recovery from an eating disorder is a process and may take time. Be patient and continue to offer support and encouragement throughout the recovery journey.

How Right at Home Can Help

A Right at Home professional caregiver can help with recovery from an eating disorder by assisting with grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking, and transportation to appointments. To find out more, use our office locator to get in touch with the location nearest you and ask for a free in-home consultation.

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Right at Home offers in-home care to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to live independently. Most Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated, and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff.
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