Understanding how eating disorders affect older adults

Eating disorders are not just a young person’s problem. Older adults—particularly older women—can and do suffer from eating disorders, and the impacts can be more extreme because of age-related changes in their bodies. Older women who suffer from eating disorders can often benefit from geriatric psych care .

How common are eating disorders in older adults?
Although the exact number of seniors suffering from eating disorders is unknown, the problem is significant. One survey of women over 50 had these findings:

  • 13% of women in this age group had symptoms of an eating disorder
  • 70% were trying lose weight
  • 62% felt that their weight had negatively impacted their lives

These numbers are similar to findings about younger women. Some older women who have eating disorders had the disorder when they were younger and experience a relapse as they age. In other cases, older women are experiencing eating disorders for the first time.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of eating disorders in older people are similar to those in younger patients. Although some of the signs vary depending on the type of eating disorder, some common symptoms include:

  • Compulsive exercise
  • Rigid eating habits/Extreme calorie restriction
  • Vomiting or laxative use
  • Binge eating, with or without purging
  • Significant weight loss or weight fluctuations

Older people are especially vulnerable to developing these symptoms after a major life change, such as divorce, retirement, menopause, or adult children leaving the home.

What treatments are available?
Therapy designed to treat younger patients is not usually helpful for older people with eating disorders. Instead, older patients can benefit from a geriatric psych program that has been created to meet the unique needs of seniors.

It is also important for seniors with eating disorders to get help for underlying issues that could affect their appetites, such as medications and health conditions.

Southern Hills Hospital & Medical Center offers geriatric psych in Las Vegas as part of our behavioral health unit. We offer outpatient care specifically designed for senior patients as well as a dedicated 14-bed inpatient unit. To learn more about our behavioral health services, call (702) 916-5023.

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