It’s easy to think of eating disorders as something that only teens or people in their 20s can suffer from since this age group does seem to get more attention and more media exposure than other ages. But many residents of Arcadia and elsewhere may be surprised to learn that the elderly can have these conditions too, including those receiving 24-hour care.
Even medical or nursing professionals taking care of seniors may not necessarily suspect eating disorders right away when working with their clients and trying to assess their health on a regular basis.
The team at Accredited Home Care encourages people to learn more about eating disorders, including friends and family members. We also make sure our staff has received proper training on how to recognize them and let family members know about national and area resources so they can seek help. Home health care positions like LVNs are in a key position to observe, assess what might be happening, and alert appropriate providers or family members.
Though there may be some different root causes between eating disorders in teens and seniors, many have similar symptoms and behaviors, including that the person may not necessarily recognize that there’s a problem or may not want to talk about it and let anyone know their secret behaviors due to shame or embarrassment.
In some cases, they may have lived with some type of disorder off and on all their life and are used to it. In other cases, they might just think that some behaviors connected to the disorder, such as eating too much or too little, is a normal part of the new and different digestive changes that come from getting older.
So it might take a concerted effort between staff, family and medical providers to recognize this in someone and get them some help.
Medical News Today said that the thinking that only people under 30 or so can experience eating disorders isn’t just reserved for people with a basic understanding of them. Many doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can make this faulty assumption.
This makes an actual disorder even more difficult to detect, and a provider is more likely to look only at the symptoms, such as poor diet or lower weight since these can be caused by all sorts of conditions common to seniors.
But the National Eating Disorders Association said that 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. may suffer from a clinically-known eating disorder and any age could be susceptible. The reasons for these are unknown and may include a blend of complex psychological, mental, physical and emotional factors that revolve around eating and weight.
Although it is believed that social pressure to be skinny may influence some teen behaviors, others may enjoy the control they have over their bodies plus the pleasure mixed with pain from binging and purging, or the attention of others.
The disorder also may cause someone to have an incorrect view of their own weight and health, such as truly believing they’re overweight, even if they may be suffering from malnutrition that could be fatal.
What to watch for
There are a few main types of eating disorders and several sub-sets, so observation and discussion can help.
Two main disorders that are sometimes connected include anorexia nervosa, which includes a fear of gaining weight and a perception that they are dangerously overweight; bulimia nervosa, which involves eating a lot of food (binging) and getting rid of it by vomiting or laxatives. (purging).
Binge-eating disorder involves the compulsion to eat a lot quickly, but not necessarily the purging. Pica is the compulsion to eat things that aren’t food, such as dirt.
Some seniors may show signs of pica as a symptom of advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease where they can’t distinguish what they’re eating and have a tendency to put anything in their mouths. Though this is technically still an eating disorder, it doesn’t include the psychological factors and may be more due to neurological changes.
The NEDA suggests that there are several signs to watch for:
- Noticeable weight changes
- Change in wardrobe to try to conceal changes, such as layers
- Physical changes from malnutrition such as losing hair or teeth
- Increased discussions about weight, diet, and eating
- Negative talk about their own weight
- Stashes of food in unusual places or food wrappers
- More interest in products like laxatives
- More interest in products like gum or mints
- More interest in staying in their room during meal time or an unusual meal schedule
Like many mental disorders or problems that seniors can face, a few of these are normal or may suggest other health conditions. But if a senior hits a good portion of these it could suggest a disorder.
If you are wondering about eating disorders, other signs to watch for or need help please call the National Eating Disorder Hotline at 800-931-2237. Accredited Home Care can also discuss career opportunities for LVNs as well.