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Senior Citizens Aren't Immune to Eating Disorders

By Christina2 - March 21, 2014

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Eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, are typically thought to occur to young females, with senior citizens one of the last thought of demographics. But it happens to them, too, and that segment of the population is suffering more and more from it. Further, research has shown that the thoughts and attitudes displayed by senior women with eating disorders is very similar to their younger counterparts.

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia believe that drastically reducing their food intake is an efficient way of losing weight and maintaining what they feel is a nice figure, and is usually coupled with a fear of gaining weight. Anorexics typically engage in a lot of exercise as a means to supplement eating less, and have a warped body image of themselves.

Over time, the lack of nutrients in the body slowly cause the body to break down, with the following signs and symptoms (seen in older people, specifically):

 

  • Fast, great weight loss
  • Growth of downy body hair
  • Playing around with food to disguise non-eating
  • A lot of, or compulsive, exercise
  • Very low blood pressure and/or heart rate (or high heart rate)
  • Frequently feeling cold and tired
  • Mood swings
  • Thinner or brittle hair that may fall out
  • Bad breath
  • Swollen cheeks
  • Abdominal distension
  • Joint pain from swelling
  •  

    Bulimia Nervosa

    Bulimics are very similar to anorexics, except they eat a great deal and then purge it after. It occurs more frequently than anorexia, but has lower rates of related deaths. Here are the most common signs and symptoms for bulimia:

     

  • Constipation
  • Dental and tooth enamel erosion from constant contact with stomach acids
  • Ruptured esophageal wall
  • Dehydration
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Peptic ulcers
  • These are just a small handful of symptoms to look out for when you suspect a senior may have bulimia.

    Causes of Anorexia and Bulimia in Seniors

    Just like their younger counterparts, seniors with eating disorders suffer from them for a number of reasons. Psychological distress is the most common one, such as poverty, isolation, loneliness, and a poor social life. Seniors may feel as though the elements that were present in their lives before are suddenly disappearing, and may turn to controlling their food intake as a last-ditch means of maintaining what little control they feel they have in their lives.

    However, psychological causes aren't the only ones related to eating disorders in the elderly, with some of them coming from age-related problems and issues like:

     

  • Physical difficulty eating food, such as poorly fitted dentures
  • Medications or illnesses that may reduce the appetite negatively
  • Not being able to properly buy and/or prepare food
  • Forgetting to eat because of dementias
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  •  

    Treatment Options

    It's impossible to say how one treatment option can fit every single senior with an eating disorder, as the elderly need to meet with their doctors and design a plan that works specifically for them. If the eating disorder is caused by poor body image related to aging, then a treatment plan could include accepting what an older body looks like as opposed to what the media would have everyone believe.

    Often, seniors with eating disorders may need a combination of treatment approaches, but it's important to consult their physician first before making any decisions or plans. While eating disorders in the elderly may not be as common as for people in their 20s, it's still a serious condition that needs immediate attention.

    For more information, visit ANRED, Eating Disorders Review, Yahoo Voices, or Get Help for Eating Disorders.