We most often associate eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia with teen-aged girls. And they do, indeed, have a high incidence of such disorders and (binge eating disorders) in our “you have to be thin” society. But increasingly studies are finding that older people, especially women, are falling prey to a variety of eating disorders.
In general older people have a lower rate of eating disorders per capita for a number of reasons. Among them is the fact that there is less peer pressure to be thin as we age, and as adults we have learned healthier ways to cope with problems. We may even had gone through therapy to learn how to problem-solve without succumbing to food disorders.
The age group that is experiencing a rise in eating disorders is middle-aged women. The reasons are many. In middle age most women have enough money to indulge a diet of rich food if they so desire. They may become increasingly dissatisfied with their body type as they age and gain a few pounds. There may be a high degree of stress due to work and family problems. Many women have experienced unhappy marriages or have been through a divorce which leads to loneliness and a feeling of failure. Or perhaps they are going through the empty nest time of life and turn to food addictions during that time period. Whatever the trigger, the symptoms of eating disorders remain the same: an excessive focus on food or dieting, excessive exercise programs or unnecessary cosmetic surgeries, and self-induced vomiting in the case of bulimia.
In elderly citizens there is a greater likelihood of malnutrition being the eating problem. As people age they may lose interest in food. They may have dental problems which make eating unpleasant, or feel lonely or depressed and thus eat less. They may not have access to easy transportation and shopping or their medications may decrease their appetites. Sometimes the problem is as simple as not having enough money to buy healthy food.
If you suspect that a senior you know is malnourished, you can do an eating disorder test and look for the following warning signs: an expressed loss of interest in food, bruises on the body or extremely slow healing of injuries, tooth decay or gum disease and low energy. Some ways to help with the problem include eating regularly with the person, or bringing in meals. It may be wise to Work with a physician who can make referrals to community programs for seniors and help them with diet information to simplify meal preparation. Programs such as Meals on Wheels are often just the ticket to improve overall health.
Eating disorders are a serious problem and need to be treated as such. If someone you know is struggling with food addictions or excessive dieting, take the time to encourage them to seek the help they need through their medical doctors or mental health professionals.
For expert advice and information on eating disorders see: Mayo Clinic