As January begins, many people set their new year’s resolution to lose weight. It’s become such a popular trend that January has become National Healthy Weight Awareness Month. Many see losing weight as a positive sign of health; however, many seniors face unintentional weight loss which can be a sign of greater issues. In fact, elderly people are disproportionately impacted; 27% of frail elders over the age of 65 experience involuntary weight loss. (Pharmacy Times) If you observe noticeable weight loss in an elderly friend or loved one, take some time to evaluate their circumstances and seek the help of a physician if need.
4 Causes of Unintentional or Unhealthy Weight Loss
1 – Reduced Mobility
As seniors age, they may lose motor function or physical ability. Previously easy daily tasks like cleaning, laundry, walking pets, and cooking may become more difficult and lead to reduced activity. Simple movements like folding linens, picking up pots and pans, or gardening help seniors maintain muscle structure and strength. As seniors forgo these activities, they may lose muscle mass and weight.
2 – Isolation or Mental Illness
If you notice a significant drop in weight, talk with your loved one about how they are spending their time. Many times, loneliness and isolation can cause decreased appetite. Seniors may stop preparing food if they have no one else to prepare it for and may eat less as a result. Social isolation can also result in or be caused by depression which has also been linked to weight loss.
3 – Chronic Pain or Physical Illness
Chronic pain, often linked with senior health concerns like arthritis or nerve damage, can cause a reduced appetite. Those suffering from consistent pain may not have the energy or ability to prepare food or eat enough to maintain nutritional health. Chronic physical illnesses like cancer or dementia can also cause severe, unintentional weight loss. Psychologist, Dr. Guido Zanni notes that cancer is the leading cause [of unintentional weight loss], accounting for 24% to 38% of cases (weight loss may be the only symptom of tumor burden). Dementia results in marked taste and smell alterations, decreasing food’s desirability.”
4 – Medication
Side effects of certain medications can greatly contribute to unintentional weight loss, especially among seniors who take several medications at once (known as polypharmacy). According to the NCBI, “more than 250 medications affect smell or taste; in the elderly, impairment of these senses has been correlated with weight loss, mood change, and even functional decline.”
If you observe dramatic weight loss in senior loved one, take some time to check and evaluate what may be happening. Poor nutrition and unintentional weight loss can lead to increased frailty and inability to fight disease. If you are concerned a loved one’s weight loss may be a result of any of the above, seek the help of a physician immediately and consider in home care. An in home care specialist can help supervise medication, help with physical or occupational therapy appointments, shop for and prepare food, and provide much-needed company.