What unwanted weight loss in old age means
WHEN THE POUNDS DROP
If seniors lose more and more weight, there is not necessarily a disease behind it. Sometimes completely different factors play a role. How can one counteract this?
Weighting a few pounds less does no harm for many people. But that’s different in old age. Weight loss can have unpleasant consequences for seniors, “because they lose both performance and muscles”, says Prof. Rainer Wirth, director of the clinic for geriatric medicine and early rehabilitation at Marien Hospital in Herne.
Weight loss in old age: Sometimes the pounds drop unintentionally
One possible consequence is a higher risk of falls, which can lead to lengthy hospital stays. Many seniors don’t even want to lose weight. The kilos fall unintentionally.
But when is that a concern? “It becomes critical when an elderly person loses more than ten percent of their body weight within six months,” explains Prof. Matthias Banasch, chief physician at the Clinic for Internal Medicine with Gastroenterology and Oncology at the Florence Nightingale Hospital in Düsseldorf.
There are many possible causes of weight loss in old age
Ideally, seniors see a doctor at the first sign of unwanted weight loss. The earlier countermeasures are taken, the better for the patient. “The causes can be varied, and it is not uncommon for several factors to come together,” explains Wirth, who is on the board of the German Society for Geriatrics.
“Unintentional weight loss can, but does not have to be, accompanied by a tumor,” adds Banasch. Undetected diabetes or dysfunction of the thyroid gland are also possible causes. Neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or dementia can also lead to unwanted weight loss. The same applies to ill-fitting dentures or swallowing disorders.
Certain medications can cause loss of appetite as a side effect, says Wirth. Even patients with a depressed mood may have less appetite and do not eat the usual amount.
“The cause of the unwanted weight loss can often be narrowed down by talking to the patient,” says Banasch. An example: a man has not eaten regularly since the woman died. In addition to the grief over the loss, the woman was responsible for cooking in the household for decades. In such a case, the advice to have meals delivered to your home using “Meals on Wheels” can help in the consultation with the doctor, says the doctor.
Weight loss in old age: Better to eat in company and season more
Another aspect: “Many people are often lonely in old age and cannot cope with having to eat alone,” explains Wirth. You should therefore dine in the company as often as possible and invite relatives, friends or neighbors, for example.
If certain medications cause loss of appetite, a doctor can often prescribe an equivalent preparation that does not have these side effects or, if necessary, reduce the dose of the medication.
A changed sense of taste in the elderly often leads to them perceiving food as bland. Because you can hardly restore this feeling, the following applies: when in doubt, season more.
Always pack enough protein on the plate
Many people can no longer manage large portions in old age. By distributing more smaller meals throughout the day, they still ensure the necessary calorie intake.
It is important to consume enough protein, emphasizes Rainer Wirth. This prevents age-related muscle wasting. Meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk contain protein, but also peas and lentils. The body also needs minerals and vitamins to maintain muscle – so you should consume plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, whole grain products, and healthy oils such as olive or rapeseed oil.
So that the fun of eating is not lost and because the eye is well known to eat, the dish should be served appetizingly on the plate – and not simply piled up carelessly. For those who suffer from swallowing disorders, it is often advisable to take meals in pureed form. “If it is nicely decorated, porridge can also stimulate you to eat up with an appetite,” says Matthias Banasch.
If normal food isn’t enough or doesn’t work, high-calorie supplementary foods can be a solution. “These carbohydrate and protein-rich calorie bombs are available as drink packs in many different flavors,” explains Banasch. “This can also be used to replace a main meal if necessary.”