When we hear terms such as ‘bulimia’ and ‘anorexia’, the image that often comes to mind is a far-too-skinny young woman. But these eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, and can originate in surprising places.
Unhealthy eating is a common struggle that nearly all of us deal with at one time or another, and around the holiday season, it can be harder than ever. We need to be mindful that unhealthy eating can make the transition into a mental health problem: binge eating disorders. They can cause serious risks to our health, particularly in our later years – elder eating disorders are a complicated and unique struggle for senior adults.
“Triggers for older adults dealing with eating disorders can include lack of enthusiasm for life; attempts to get attention from family members; protest against living conditions, such as in a nursing home; economic hardship; and medical problems,” according to one report.
The misconception that eating disorders only affect the young can also cause misdiagnosis of eating disorders with seniors. According to Laurie Cooper, of the Renfrew Center in Nashville, TN, “Many family members or helping professionals may attribute weight loss, malnutrition or unexplained symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea to a ‘normal’ aging process or some other medical condition, rather than a mental health disorder.”
Eating disorders are very serious, and can be more so when they are affecting the elderly. This is because an older person’s bodily functions are less resilient in the aging process, and the tremendous toll an eating disorder has will affect an elderly person far more quickly and seriously. Eating disorders can also exacerbate the effects of other common conditions associated with aging, such as osteoporosis, gastrointestinal issues, cardiac conditions, depression, and obesity.
Unhealthy eating may seem relatively harmless to anything other than fitness or your waistline, but it can make a dangerous transition to an eating disorder. Some of the most common symptoms to beware of for elder eating disorders are:
- Substantial weight loss or gain in a short period of time;
- Excessive amounts of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills;
- Behavioral changes (disappearing after eating, desiring to eat alone, etc.); and
- Changes in appearance (hair loss or dental damage) or bodily function (cold sensitivity, heart problems, gastrointestinal issues, etc.).
If you, or someone you love is showing some or all of these signs, consider talking to a doctor about treatment.
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