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Eating Disorders Among Seniors

Hidden Struggles: Eating Disorders Among Seniors

While eating disorders are often associated with teenagers and young adults, the reality is that these serious illnesses can affect people of all ages, including seniors. Often misdiagnosed or dismissed entirely, eating disorders in older adults pose a significant challenge, requiring unique understanding and care.

Research shows that 1.8% to 3.8% of community-dwelling women over 60 exhibit signs of an eating disorder, with similar figures expected for men. This translates to a significant number of seniors struggling silently, highlighting the need for increased awareness and support.

The stakes are high. Seniors battling eating disorders face a related mortality rate of 21%.

These illnesses are not mere quirks; they’re life-threatening conditions that demand our attention.

Catherine, aged 89, embodies quiet desperation. Her BMI hovers at 14, and she resists well-intentioned dietary advice. Yet, there’s no mirror obsession or body image fixation—just an unyielding desire to look good. Catherine’s story mirrors countless others who suffer silently, their struggles masked by age and societal assumptions.

Challenges of Eating Disorders in Seniors:


Unfamiliarity with eating disorders in older populations can lead to misinterpretation of symptoms as typical age-related changes or co-occurring medical conditions.

Underlying Triggers:

Seniors may develop eating disorders in response to life transitions like retirement, loss of loved ones, declining health, or financial difficulties.

Comorbid Conditions:

Eating disorders in seniors often co-occur with other mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, further complicating diagnosis and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Seniors

Detecting eating disorders in seniors can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Weight Loss Despite Normal Intake:

    Anorexia, dysphagia, socioeconomic factors—these all contribute to weight loss. But when weight loss persists despite adequate food intake, consider the possibility of an eating disorder.

  • Reduced Appetite:

    Aging doesn’t automatically dampen appetite. If an older adult’s hunger wanes, investigate further. Clinicians often overlook eating disorders during assessments, assuming reduced appetite is part of the course.

  • Weight Phobia and Vomiting:

    Seniors expressing fear of gaining weight or engaging in secretive vomiting episodes warrant attention. Eating disorders lurk behind these seemingly innocuous behaviors.

  • Hiding food or discarding wrappers
  • Excessive exercising
  • Social withdrawal
  • Fatigue and weakness


Pharmacological and Behavioral Interventions:

  • Successful management hinges on a combination of approaches. Medications, therapy, and counseling play pivotal roles.
  • Early Diagnosis Matters: Healthcare professionals must recognize the rising tide of eating disorders in seniors. Timely intervention can prevent further decline and improve quality of life.


As we raise awareness during this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, let’s remember that age does not exempt anyone from these battles. Our seniors deserve compassion, understanding, and effective care. Early intervention is crucial for successful treatment. If you suspect an eating disorder in an older adult, encourage them to seek professional help from a specialist familiar with geriatric care and eating disorders.

We at CABS Health Network are committed to providing optimum care for our seniors.

Let’s continue to unveil the hidden struggles, one word at a time, and ensure that no one fights alone.

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