Senior Citizens and Eating Disorders


IMG_0051My 84 year old mother has developed an eating disorder.  It came on, rather suddenly, during what amounted to about a two week period back in late August and early September.  It reached the point where, by mid-September, her physician said it would kill her by Christmas.  No, he did not call it an eating disorder, but just refusing to eat.  A month later my father died.  That has made it even worse.  Mitigate that with the constant use of a prescription pain medication which is now more a problem than a help, and we’re in trouble.  She denies she has a problem.  No one wants to think she does, so I become the cold-blooded bitch from hell.  Mealtimes are a disaster.  She eats a few bites then quits.  The excuses always very but they are always ready and plentiful

  1. Grief
  2. My cooking tastes bad (true)
  3. She’s tired
  4. Her back hurts
  5. She can’t breathe
  6. She has a-fib
  7. And my favorite:  Her arm hurts too bad to go through the motions of eating

Meals are accompanied by sounds that remind one of a woman in labor, or someone hyperventilating.  She gets this weird pained look on her face.  Then she closes her eyes, and acts like she is in great pain.  Her hands start shaking.  If I say something, she becomes highly belligerent.  This occurs each and every time she eats.  If I try discussing it (she calls it accusing her) she will cry.  At least, last week, a friend who was having lunch with us realized there is a problem.  If the situation continues, she will be dead in a matter of months.  Her eating is that pathetic.

The elderly suffer from eating disorders the same way teens do.  The problem is the fact that physicians are not willing to diagnose them as such, making the problem even worse.  When a senior is frail, having an eating disorder is literally the kiss of death. On Saturday, while in the ER, my mother was told that any little illness, now, would be fatal.  I don’t know what is going to happen the next few days, if she doesn’t get over this bug, or what ever it is.  I know we will end up in the ER, where she will need hydrating.

Get Help For Eating Disorders
Get Help For Eating Disorders

Forty percent of seniors in Canada suffer from eating problems.

“…Typical causes may include depression, a lack of enthusiasm for life, a form of protest, an attempt to attract attention from friends and family members, medication (which can affect the appetite), and economic hardship.

Of course, wasting illnesses such as cancer can cause a loss of appetite, and, anyway, as we get older the appetite decreases. The capacity to taste and smell food declines. False teeth may make eating more difficult.

A spokesman for the British Nutrition Foundation says: “As a person gets older, they tend to eat less because they become less active and there is a fall in their basal metabolic rate, the energy needed for processes such as breathing and digesting food.

“Arthritis can make it difficult to prepare food and some people may lose interest in food if they live alone, have difficulty shopping or have financial problems.

“The physical effects of ageing alter the efficiency of many body processes. The ability to digest, absorb, metabolise and excrete nutrients decreases with age, though it varies between individuals. For this reason it is difficult to make specific dietary recommendations for this group.”

This natural loss of appetite, and the effects of illness, complicate the problem, and make it harder for professionals to sort those with true eating disorders from those with other problems.

Ian Rommory, head of care at the Kensington nursing home in west London, says: “I have seen patients give up eating. Either they can’t be bothered, or those with dementia can’t remember to.

“I blame depression in the elderly for eating disorders, and would not say that they have the same reasons as teenagers, who have anorexia, because it has very little to do with distorted body image. It is a way of ending their life in old age….”

We have the breathing and energy problem.  If something doesn’t change, I don’t even know if we can make it to the new year.  It’s that bad.  She has admitted she has an eating disorder, finally.  I’m told that is half the battle.