Weight Loss in Elderly Relatives: When Should You Worry?

As elderly relatives grow older, caretakers and relatives need to keep an eye on warning signs of problems. The signals come in many forms, and one common symptom the elderly experience is weight loss. Weight loss in the elderly, however, is not always a sign of a problem, which can make it particularly difficult to establish when there is a need for further concern.

If a relative is overweight, weight loss can be healthy and encouraged under a doctor’s care. That said, a senior should not be losing weight without a doctor’s care, or for seemingly no reason.

Causes of Weight Loss in Elderly Patients

Unplanned weight loss in elderly relatives can be a sign of a serious problem, so it’s important to ensure that he or she is continuing to eat normally before jumping to any other conclusions. If disability or illness is causing a reduced ability to eat and swallow food, measures can be taken to ensure proper nutrition through supplementing the diet or preparing softer or liquid meals. If the elderly relative begins to refuse meals or become more ‘picky’ to the point of flat out refusing to eat, however, this can be very dangerous.

Other weight loss causes include loss of taste or smell which can lead to a loss of appetite. For seniors still living on their own, they may be having difficulty with cooking or handling items around the kitchen due to a loss of strength and dexterity.

It’s also important to recognize the possibility of memory conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, which can be particularly difficult to isolate during earlier stages of the disease where the relative may still be living independently.

Identifying and Monitoring Weight Loss in the Elderly

If a caretaker spends time with an elderly relative frequently, he or she may not notice gradual weight loss, particularly if the relative wears loose clothing. Aside from regularly weighing or measuring, which could be seen as intrusive or accusatory, there are some other ways to monitor a relative’s weight and eating habits.

Family photographs are a great way of capturing this measurement. People don’t normally mind being photographed and doing so provides a visual record that can be compared easily month to month.

When visiting a relative take a look at the fridge and pantry, keeping an eye out for signs of expired foods or taking note of the refrigerator being sparse, or offer to go grocery shopping with the relative, asking what foods they generally like to have on hand to prepare at home, etc. In these situations, if you find that your relative isn’t cooking much but does have an otherwise healthy appetite, you could suggest home meal delivery from a meal service and solve the problem immediately.

Lastly, watch how your relative eats throughout the day when sharing meals. If you notice your relative seems to not be eating well, it may be time to ask him or her directly, or speak privately to a medical professional that can help.

Regardless of the cause of weight loss in elderly relatives, one thing remains: it’s better safe than sorry. If you notice weight loss in your elderly relative or friend, it’s important to gently express your concerns and, if necessary, find medical help as early on as possible.


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