Identifying Anorexia In The Elderly
In the United States, eating disorders affect an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men at some point in their life, and many of those will specifically struggle with anorexia. However, it is estimated only one in three people who experience an eating disorder in their lifetime receive treatment.
One of the most common reasons these individuals do not receive treatment is because they do not fit the common demographic expected to live with such a condition. For example, anorexia is most commonly associated with young women, but it occurs in individuals of all ages, genders, and demographics.
In America, 78% of deaths related to anorexia occur amongst the elderly, not the young people typically associated with the disorder.
Anorexia can be especially difficult to diagnose in the elderly, as many older individuals live with chronic diseases and conditions. Anorexia often worsens the symptoms of these chronic conditions, masking the real root cause of the problem.
While there are several complicating factors that can make anorexia nervosa particularly difficult to identify in older individuals, there are some signs and symptoms that family members and caretakers can watch for if they suspect a person is experiencing anorexia at any age, aside from appearing significantly underweight. They include:
- Thinning hair
- Bluish discoloration of the fingers
- Dry skin
- Constant fatigue
- Dizziness and episodes of fainting
- Socially withdrawn
It is important to remember these signs and symptoms can also be indicative of other potentially unrelated health conditions, especially in the elderly. Still, if you notice any of these warning signs in someone, it is important to encourage them to seek professional assistance to maintain a healthy diet.
As the body ages, it depends on a steady flow of vitamins and nutrients that can only be obtained by maintaining healthy eating habits. Eating disorders prevent this and simultaneously decrease quality of life and life expectancy, so it is important to take any signs or symptoms serious and be sure they are handled appropriately.