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Senior Health: Understanding Unnecessary Weight Loss

By Ilse du Bernard, 9:00 am on

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to enjoying a long and vibrant life, but when a senior sheds the pounds unintentionally, it’s time for family members to start asking questions. Rapid weight loss in the elderly can be a sign of a serious underlying problem, and it’s associated with increased mortality, decreased function, and a lower quality of life as well.

Muscle Mass and Weight Loss

Lean body mass actually begins to decline around age 30. However, it’s typically replaced by fat so a person’s total body weight usually remains the same. Age-related loss of muscle mass accelerates around the age of 65. Due to changes in hormone levels and metabolism, some weight loss among the elderly is considered normal. When a senior’s body weight decrease 5 to 10 percent over a period of up to 12 months, however, it can indicate a serious medical problem.

Underlying Diseases

Cancer is the leading cause of rapid, unintended weight loss in the elderly, accounting for up to 38 percent of cases according to a 2009 report published in MD Magazine. Endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to unintentional weight loss as well. Issues with the gastrointestinal system, like nausea or diarrhea, are also common causes of sudden weight loss.

Cognitive Impairment

Seniors with dementia are particularly prone to unintended weight loss. Dementia commonly impacts a person’s sense of smell and taste, which decreases the desirability of food. Some seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s may forget to eat meals altogether. A recent study conducted at the University of California at San Francisco found that certain dementia medications lead to dangerous weight loss as well.

If your elderly loved one experiences decreased functional abilities due to unintentional weight loss, hiring a live-in or hourly caregiver in North Houston to assist with meal preparation can help ensure your family member gets the nutrition he or she needs to thrive.

Learn more about senior health and nutrition from the friendly staff at Home Care Assistance, a trusted provider of elder care in North Houston. We provide hourly and live-in care, as well as care for seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s. All of our care services include the use of our proprietary Balanced Care Method that promotes healthy eating, daily fitness, and helps seniors maintain a sense of purpose. For more information, please call 832-412-1345.