NEDAwareness Week 2013 is from February 24th to March 2nd. This year’s theme is “Everybody Knows Somebody,” and as NEDAwareness.org points out, “Eating disorders do not discriminate--ANYONE can be effected.”
Drop inner stereotypes about negative Barbie doll influences and too tiny girls eating nothing but saltines while still participating in afterschool triathlons. They exist, of course, and they need very serious attention, but they are not the only faces of eating disorders.
According to a 2010 study, “Eating Disorders in the Elderly,” published by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, “Eating disorders in the elderly are often overlooked. When they occur, significant morbidity and mortality result... Eating disorders do occur in the elderly and should be included in the differential diagnosis of unexplained weight loss in the elderly.”
The age range of cases studied by the Mayo Clinic researchers was 50-94 years old, 88% of whom were female. Over 80% had anorexia nervosa and 10% had bulimia nervosa. The study found that late onset eating disorders were far more common in the senior population than early onset ones. Major depression was found to be common a factor, and even if seniors do not make up the larger population of those living with eating disorders, they do make up the sad majority of preventable deaths due to untreated anorexia.
Anecdotal evidence exists all over the web, as well as in our day to day lives, those of our friends and our families. Often, an elderly eating disorder will occur after a spouse passes away or divorces late in life. Lonely and feeling undesirable, body image becomes a curse for the one “left behind.” If a parent or someone you care for is showing signs of unexplained weight loss or gain, it is not a change to be ignored. Keep in mind that eating disorders can also be invisible if we don’t know what to look for, especially if we don’t want to see them in the first place. After all the encouragement and life lessons our parents taught us, it can be very difficult to admit to ourselves that they now need a cheer squad worse than we did during our most trying school days.
If a senior in your life has been losing weight or seems to have become obsessed with the idea of shedding pounds and dropping sizes, there are several ways to intervene unobtrusively. First, find out if there has been any changes in medication, as this can have a significant impact on appetite and emotional responses. Here are some tips on how to gently ease an elderly loved one you’re worried about back into proper nutrition:
If your parent is willing to admit they have a problem, support groups can have a very positive impact. Again, talk to you and your parents’ doctor, do an internet search for appropriate groups and consider that it may be time for Mom or Dad to be supervised for portions of the day via in home care or adult day care.