Can Older People Develop Eating Disorders


Hitherto, eating disorders were regarded as health issues that predominated in teenagers and young female adults. For several decades, women in their teens and twenties were considered as the usual typecasts for getting afflicted with prevalent eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. However, clinical research and studies carried out in the last couple of decades have noted that a significant proportion of women in their late 30s and 40s and even 50s, have demonstrated palpable symptoms of eating disorders.

Specialists in this field, including dieticians and nutritionists, have reported meeting many elderly people in the age range of 40 to 70, particularly females that binged or starved more often.  More and more senior citizens, of late, have been afflicted by symptoms associated with bulimia or anorexia nervosa, a disturbing trend which was once attributed to younger females.


Eating Disorders that Elderly are most likely to Confront


A greater percentage of the elderly are now falling prey to the widespread eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bingeing, purging, and bulimia nervosa. A medical journal that reviewed such disorders in older individuals aged over 50, reported that more than 80% of them were diagnosed with anorexia nervosa while about 12% suffered from bulimia nervosa. It was also observed that such disorders became predominant and more pronounced when the individuals were in their 40s or 50s rather than earlier.

Similarities were noted in the manner in which such eating abnormalities became marked and noticeable in older and younger people. For instance, both the age groups refrained from taking their regular meals as they expressed that they didn’t have the appetite because they were either sick or didn’t feel hungry. Both the groups suffered from low self-esteem, had a negative perspective about their physique, were wrecked by family issues, and found it difficult to articulate their emotions.

The young, as well as the old people, were equally prone to recurrent purging including the misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretic pills, and self-induced regurgitation in order to tackle obesity problems. However, the elderly were likely to use or rather abuse laxatives, compared to the younger generation. And as far as bulimia nervosa was concerned, the symptoms were more or less identical in both the age groupings.

Nevertheless, the risk factors for health linked with bulimia nervosa were liable to be more prominent and grave in the elderly. Though bulimia could be life-threatening at any stage of life, older individuals were more vulnerable to heart attacks because of the eating disorder.


Symptoms and Risk Factors Associated with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, more often than not, usually result from a multiplicity of connected events or factors, rather than from a one-off, stand-alone factor. Young members of the opposite sex are most likely to be diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia because of genetic predisposition, excessive stress or trauma or fetishism for perfection. Elderly people, on the other hand, may exhibit eating order symptoms that are probably activated by feelings of loneliness, unexpected loss of a loved one, a mortifying affliction, and so on.


Treatment Options


Treatment for the elderly plagued by eating disorders must take into account the individual or the specific issues of the patient. The physician or the therapist should enlighten his or her patients about the normal physiological transformations that occur with aging including wrinkling of the skin, sagging breasts, abdomen, and buttocks, and graying of the hairs. Patients should be made to understand and realize that such physical changes in the body are commonalities and there is nothing abnormal about them.

Older patients will probably ask for a “therapist near me” and can also be referred to their nearest eating disorder centers for a speedy recovery. Betterhelp suggests how you can find one.



The aged are highly susceptible to becoming inconvenienced with eating disorders because of an idiopathic illness, specific medication causing appetite loss, decaying gums and teeth, poverty, loneliness, and depression. If you have an elderly parent or family member plagued with bulimia or anorexia, you should consult a physician or psychiatrist as early as possible.

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