Many older adults lose weight as they age, which is not necessarily a good thing. When an older adult loses five percent or more of their weight over a period of six months (and they are not specifically working on weight loss), this could be cause for alarm. As a caregiver or family member, here are some of the possible causes of weight loss to explore with your older relative and their doctor.
1. Social Isolation and Depression
As senior citizens become less mobile, they tend to spend more time alone at home. Their social community also tends to become smaller; perhaps their spouse or some of their friends pass away. This increased isolation can contribute to depression. Medications your loved one is taking for heart disease, diabetes, of another chronic ailment may also make depression worse.
As depression sets in, seniors often lose their appetites, which leads to weight loss. Other signs that your loved one may be depressed include:
- An overall lack of energy
- Frequent crying
- Trouble sitting still or feelings of restlessness
- A persistently sad or anxious mood
- Trouble making decisions
Thankfully, treatments for depression may help elevate your loved one’s mood and therefore their appetite. Their doctor may recommend engaging them in more social activities so they are not so isolated. Talk therapy can help, as can antidepressant medications.
Keep your loved one active, perhaps with regular walks or workout classes for seniors. Physical activity can also help ward off depression.
2. Functional Difficulties
Weight loss can also be a sign that your loved one is physically struggling to feed themselves. Perhaps they no longer have the stamina to cook meals, or maybe they don’t feel safe using the stove. Inability to feed oneself could be a sign that your loved one is ready for assisted living or the assistance of an in-home caregiver. You can also make healthy meals easier and safer yourself.
Consider doing your loved one’s grocery shopping for them to ensure they always have healthy food on-hand. Stock their home with ready-to-eat snacks, such as full-fat yogurt cups, cheese sticks, peanut butter and crackers, and meal replacement shakes. You could also prepare meals and pre-package them in containers so your loved one can simply reheat them in the microwave.
Any senior who has experienced unexplained weight loss should be checked over by a doctor before you assume their weight loss is due to functional difficulties alone. Sadly, weight loss is sometimes the first obvious sign of cancer in an older adult. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome — so you don’t have time to wait and see if other symptoms develop.
The most common cancers in older adults are lung cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Your loved one should be screened for these cancers regularly. Check with their doctor to ensure the senior keeps up with their screening appointments.
4. Undiagnosed or Poorly Managed Diabetes
If your loved one has diabetes, weight loss could be a sign that they are no longer managing their condition properly. If they are not using enough insulin, sugar will not make its way into the body’s cells, so the body will be forced to burn its own tissues as fuel. Your loved one may require home care to ensure they take their diabetes medications properly.
Weight loss can also be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes. Other signs of diabetes include:
- Lack of energy
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
Diabetes is easy to diagnose with some simple blood tests. Once your loved one is on a proper diet and medication routine, they should feel a lot better.
Unexplained weight loss in seniors is not a good sign, and you should always discuss any dramatic changes with a physician. If you are an older adult looking for a new doctor — or a caregiver looking for a new doctor for your older family member — contact Stellis Health. We offer comprehensive care for patients of all ages.