How to prevent elderly anorexia

What is elderly anorexia?

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

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder where a person eats significant 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, but anorexia nervosa can occur in an age group, particularly the elderly

In America, 78% of anorexic deaths occur amongst the elderly, not the young

Why many elderly people eat far less than they should

The cause of anorexia nervosa is not known in every instance

Although obesity can be a great cause of concern in elderly people, the bigger issue appears to be  the reported decline in food intake amongst the elderly and the loss of their motivation to eat

In turn, this creates problems relating to regulating your ageing parent’s food intake and ensuring they maintain the right level of energy they need for day-to-day life

Loss of appetite, or failure of the elderly to make themselves regular meals leading weight loss may be caused by social or physiological factors, or a combination of both

Poverty, loneliness, and social isolation are the predominant social factors, which contribute to decreased food intake in the elderly

Depression, often associated with loss or deterioration of social networks, is a common psychological problem in the elderly and a significant cause of loss of appetite

The reduction in food intake may also be due to reduced hunger levels, if they are physically less active, or because often older people feel fuller quicker whilst eating. The central feeding drive appears to decline with age

Physical factors, such as bad teeth and ill-fitting dentures, or age-associated changes in taste and smell may also influence food choice and limit the type and quantity of food eaten in older people

Common medical conditions in the elderly, such as gastrointestinal disease, poor food absorption, acute and chronic infections, and hyper-metabolism can often cause anorexia, micronutrient deficiencies, and deficient levels of protein and hence, energy

In addition, the elderly are major users of prescription medications, a number of which can cause mal-absorption of nutrients, gastrointestinal symptoms, and loss of appetite

Poor nutrition has been implicated in the development and progression of chronic diseases commonly affecting the elderly, with symptoms including impaired muscle function, decreased bone mass, immune dysfunction, anaemia, reduced cognitive function, poor wound healing, delayed recovery from surgery and ultimately, increased mortality

What signs should you look for?

Signs and symptoms

  • Apart from appearing significantly underweight, there are various signs and symptoms that may be associated with anorexia/malnutrition. These include:
    • Thinning hair
    • Paleness
    • Bluish discoloration of the fingers
    • Dry skin
    • Constant fatigue
    • Dizziness and episodes of fainting
    • Socially withdrawn
    • Irritability

Please note:

These signs and symptoms do not specifically indicate anorexia nervosa and especially not in the elderly, who may have a host of chronic diseases

The effects of anorexia nervosa may worsen the symptoms of other chronic diseases, which can also be misleading

What can you do to help your ageing parent eat well and avoid anorexia?

  • Make it easier for them to eat – by creating smoothies made with fresh fruit, yogurt, and protein powder. Steam vegetables and soft food, such as couscous and rice. Yogurt and soup are also good
  • Help their dry mouth – encourage them to drink lots of water each day and  to take a drink of water after each bite of food. Add sauces and salsas to foods to moisten them
  • Home delivery –All major supermarkets have internet or phone delivery services, which you can order for your parent if they cannot do it for themselves. Browse with them to inspire their taste buds!
  • Meal delivery services – there are a number of companies who prepare meals and deliver, as well as Meals on Wheels, which you can find via your local authority
  • Get help at home with the cooking – if this is an option, it works well. Your parent gets good food and company
  • Stock the freezer and the larder- ready meals and meals you have made for your parent, as well as cakes and vegetables can all go into the freezer. Soups and tinned food are good staples for the larder. Make sure there is always a loaf of bread in the freezer to defrost
  • Make every meal “do-able.” Healthy eating needn’t be a big production. Keep it simple, stock the freezer and make it easy to cook
  • Create base foods make up batches of simple cooked food, such as chicken, beef, vegetables, fish. Your parent can defrost them and then add sauces and other ingredients of their choice, so they always have a healthy meal at hand, but are still involved in choice and preparation
  • Stock them up with healthy snacks, such as dried fruit, cereal bars, mixed seeds, nuts, small juice cartons and instant soups
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables are an excellent way of making it very easy for your parent to access healthy ingredients, especially if mobility prevents them from going out to buy fresh produce
  • Make sure they have the right equipment. If they have difficulty gripping standard cutlery,special cutlery is available, which make it easier to eat. A small hot water urn may be better than a kettle and microwaves are also a very healthy option to prepare food

Help your ageing parent by encouraging them to eat a balanced diet

Your parent should eat a good mixture of fruit, vegetables, calcium from dairy foods to avoid osteoporosis and the danger of breaking bones when they fall, grains to avoid constipation and protein for cell renewal

For long-lasting energy and stable insulin levels, choose “good”, or complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables

The elderly are prone to dehydration, because their bodies lose some of their ability to regulate fluid levels and their sense of thirst is dulled. Drinking regularly is critical to fending off urinary infections, constipation and promoting overall good health

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