Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Eating Disorders

Concerned about Mother

10/12/2010

Question:

Is it possible for a senior citizen to develop an eating disorder? My mom was always a normal weight, maybe 15 lbs or so overweight when she was in her 40s but nothing that would make anyone say, "Wow, this person really has to lose weight!"

Lately she has been obsessed with trying to lose weight. I don’t see her all that often and thought maybe she had gained weight and was trying to lose. When I talk to her on the phone and she tells me what she eats, it sounds like very little. For example, juice for breakfast and broth with a chopped up carrot in it for dinner, and that’s all for a whole day.

She is constantly berating herself for eating things that sound perfectly normal to me, for example, a slice of cheese, because she is "trying to lose weight." Well when I saw her the other day I was very alarmed. She is VERY thin, eating almost nothing, complaining about feeling weak and dizzy, and verbally beating herself up for anything that she does eat.

I am very concerned about her health. She does have a doctor she sees regularly and she says her doctor tells her to get more exercise and take vitamins and supplements. I do NOT think she should be trying to lose any more weight, in fact she looks like she needs to GAIN some weight, and I really don’t like to hear her constantly berating herself and mentally beating herself up for eating practically anything at all.

Could she have developed an eating disorder at her age? I don’t think she ever had one when I was growing up.

Answer:

Yes it is possible to develop an eating disorder later in life.

If the body experiences too much strain from too much weight loss, it hypothetically could trigger genes to turn on from a set of life long traits that the person may have that could set them up to be vulnerable to an eating disorder illness.

Also, however, often in older age, weight loss and obsessions increase from other illnesses, such as increased depression, or obsessive compulsive tendencies.

Seeing her MD is central, and telling your mother that you would like to offer input and talk with her MD may also help. The MD may be helped by having additional information from family members and gain a better knowledge of her history. Your mother may down play her problems and the MD may think that they do not need to take her issues seriously, however your input may help increase the direction needed for your mother's health.

For more information:

Go to the Eating Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Laura  L Hill, PhD Laura L Hill, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University