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A Caregiver’s Tips to Avoid Anorexia in Seniors

calendarPublished October 28, 2016

A Caregiver’s Tips to Avoid Anorexia in Seniors

Anorexia is a medical term that means lack of appetite but sometimes it occurs for psychological reasons that can lead to significant weight loss.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where a person eats significantly less than what is needed by their body to maintain health. It is a well-known eating disorder that is more common in teenage girls, because of the influence of the media and perception that beauty is associated with being very thin, but anorexia nervosa can occur in any age group, even the elderly.

The risk with anorexia nervosa in the elderly is that it often has a worse outlook and accounts for more cases of fatalities than anorexia nervosa in teenagers. A surprising 78% of anorexia deaths are among the elderly, and it affects both genders.

Causes of Anorexia Nervosa in the elderly

The cause of anorexia nervosa is not known in every instance. It often accompanies depression particularly in older age groups but there is some evidence to suggest a genetic component.

Apart from depression for no specific reasons, there are other reasons, such as:

  • The emotional stress such as the death of a partner and alienation from family and friends
  • An undiscovered illness or infection that is causing a loss of appetite
  • Forgetting to eat because of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory problems
  • The desire to act out in order to get attention when treated like a burden by society and loved ones
  • Medication can contribute to depressive states but when it causes loss of appetite, it is not anorexia nervosa. An additional danger of eating disorders in seniors is that medications can be affected. Prescription drugs may not work as they should, side effects may be more severe and the body may not respond how it should to necessary medication. The risk of overdose also increases.

Signs and symptoms

Anorexia is a silent disease that is easy to disguise. Refusal to eat such as not feeling well or being full from eating earlier, are often dismissed by friends and family as legitimate excuses. Passively asking your elderly loved one if they are eating properly will often receive a positive response. So, how do we diagnose an elderly loved one suffering from Anorexia Nervosa?

Apart from appearing significantly underweight, there are various signs and symptoms that may be associated with malnutrition. This includes:

  • Changes in behavior, such as frequency of using the bathroom after eating a meal
  • Thinning hair
  • Dental issues
  • Paleness
  • Bluish discoloration of the fingers
  • Dry skin
  • Constant fatigue, dizziness and episodes of fainting
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Being socially withdrawn
  • Irritability

These signs and symptoms do not specifically indicate anorexia nervosa and especially in the elderly who may have a host of chronic diseases. The effects of anorexia nervosa may worsen the symptoms of these chronic diseases which can also be misleading.

The input of loved ones and caregivers is often a more reliable indication of an eating disorder as it will be noted that the person denies being hungry, refuses food and although uncommon with elderly anorexics, may undertake some form of purging like excessive laxative use.

Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa

While depression can be treated with medication, the focus of treatment should revolve around psychotherapy. Nutritional supplements may be necessary to treat deficiencies and in severe malnutrition cases, hospitalization and parenteral feeding may be necessary.

It is important for family and friends to be supportive and understand that anorexia nervosa is not merely a person being stubborn and refusing to eat but a mental disorder. Attempting to force feed an anorexic or being aggressive with the person can worsen the condition.

Having an expert to guide you on your journey can be exceedingly helpful for your senior’s case. Cyril Senior Care would like to share some tips on how to encourage healthy eating and prevent anorexia in our elderly:

  • Make meal times hassle-free
    But we do not encourage you to go for microwavable food. Opt for creating smoothies out of yogurt, fresh fruits, and protein powder. You can also choose to steam their vegetables and other soft food like couscous and rice. Add soup to their diet.
  • Help them with their dry mouth
    Water is very healthy to the human body and more important to our seniors. Persuade them to drink water frequently. During meals, add sauces and salsas.
  • Get help with preparing meals
    If our senior is alone in their own house, who will make sure they are eating properly? Cyril Senior Care offers companionship services. Having food and a good company is one way to get pleasure from and have fun during meals.
  • Stock food in the refrigerator
    Seniors do not like going to the supermarket to buy their daily needs. They feel that they will not be safe when going out on the road and some of them may be suffering from discomforts. It is our duty to stock up the needed ingredients for the senior’s meal. Do not forget to go and check every once in a while.
  • Cook food in advance
    If microwaves are what seniors usually go for when they want to eat, you can prepare their food in advance. Create their base food of the day especially simple ones like chicken, vegetables, fish and beef. They can simply defrost or heat these and add some sauce into it for the flavor.

Anorexia in the elderly can be prevented if your senior promotes a healthy eating habit. They can only follow this eating habit if you are involved in their care. But not all children can find time in their busy schedules to care for their parents. Let us help you with that!

We would like to hear from you! What has been your experience with eating disorders in the elderly? What effect has this had on your family and what steps were taken toward recovery?

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