Monmouth County's Ask The Doctor May - June 2021

Question: Why Do Seniors Experience Weight Loss? By, Lauren Kowlacki Elderly people often find that they drop the pounds much more easily than they did when they were younger. While this may have been desirable in the past, now it's concerning because too much weight loss poses health risks. Elderly people should work with doctors, nurses, speech pathologists, dietitians and family members to ensure they continue to enjoy eat- ing nutritious foods that help them maintain a healthy weight and enhance their well-being. Loss of Appetite Lack of appetite can be an emotional response to changing life circumstances. People who move to a retirement home may be disoriented by the changes in their routine and find that eating is not a priority until they get their bearings. Those who experience a loss of independence, decline in health or decrease in social activities may feel depressed and have less motivation to eat. Illness and Medications When chronic health conditions set in, the risk of weight loss increases. In addition to illness-related depression and lack of appetite, medications that list weight loss as a side effect play a role. Add these to any treatment -- such as chemotherapy -- that causes nausea or vomiting, and there will be a significant decrease in food intake. The impact can last longer than the treatment, too, as elderly people may develop food aversions based on what they were eating around the time they felt sick. Body Changes Changes abound during the aging process, including loss of lean body mass with resulting decrease in muscle. Metabolism slows down, which may cause elderly people to eat less than they once did. There is an increase in the hormone that causes fullness, so hunger is not as strong. The senses of taste and smell are weaker, so elderly people may say that foods don't taste quite the same as they did before. Difficulty Chewing and Swallowing Losing teeth leads to difficulty chewing, limiting the kinds of foods that are manageable for an elderly person to eat. Swal- lowing difficulties can occur with various conditions and treatments, such as stroke or cancer. It is not safe for a person with swallowing dysfunction to eat just any kind of food, as the food could go down the wrong way and cause choking or lung infections. Elderly people who have difficulty chewing or swallowing need special diets to minimize risk.





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