The Advantage and Disadvantage of Weight Loss In Elderly
In the last twenty years a dramatic increase in adult obesity has been observed in the United States. Today, it is estimated that over a third of all adults and 20% of seniors are considered obese. We are seeing more and more obesity in the elderly population and it is great cause for concern. Although it is generally the case that people lose weight as they age, poor diets and inactivity may be pushing these numbers higher than they’ve ever been. It would make sense then to encourage weight loss in the elderly – and it certain circumstances that may be correct – other times it may be detrimental and even dangerous for a senior to lose weight.
Weight loss in elderly individuals has traditionally been discouraged by health professionals because with weight loss comes muscle and bone mass loss. Losing muscle and bone mass can lead to other problems with balance and mobility that can dramatically affect a person’s ability to function and take care of themselves. There are several factors that can contribute to weight loss in elderly people such as the death of a spouse, the inability to cook or shop independently or a for a variety of other reasons including disease and depression.
Involuntary Weight loss in the elderly can occur over a relatively short period and may be associated with serious and chronic illnesses. In some cases, the person may have a completely normal appetite that still results in weight loss. Other times, the individual’s appetite is reduced or they may feel sick after eating and they decrease their food intake. Both scenarios can be indicators of something much more serious going on with the elderly person. It may not be obvious to the person that they are losing weight and deteriorating so it is up to caregivers and family members to monitor them for changes.
Substantial weight loss in seniors is a major concern and a loss of more than 5% of total body weight within a six to twelve month period is substantial, according to medical professionals. This kind of weight loss can be associated with a myriad of severe medical conditions that require immediate attention. Cancer is the most frequently noted cause of involuntary weight loss in the elderly, accounting for nearly a third of all patients that have experienced substantial unintentional weight loss. Chronic infections, cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal disease, and hyperthyroidism can also be possible suspects when an elderly person has lost weight inexplicably. Additionally, weight loss and low BMI in the elderly are also associated with higher mortality in some studies.
Studies have also shown that weight loss in the elderly population that is considered overweight and obese can be extremely advantageous. The medical community touts the importance of not carrying excess weight, but that has not always been the message delivered to older adults. Obesity is an important cause of disability in the elderly but some studies suggest that being slightly overweight can actually be protective, in theory anyway. The thought is that having a few extra pounds is good if the person becomes ill with a serious disease such as cancer and needs to have chemotherapy treatments, which could lead to rapid weight loss.
Intentional, controlled weight loss in elderly individuals that is accomplished by incorporating healthy eating habits and regular exercise can have positive health benefits. For older adults, at least for the short term. In fact, losing weight has an immediate effect on mobility which can have a positive effect on the happiness of the individual. Being able to move freely, to accomplish daily activities with less stress and strain on the body is a big benefit of weight loss in the elderly.
In a study conducted by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., it was found that physical activity and weight loss for overweight and obese adults resulted in lower cardiovascular disease risk and improved mobility. The study also concluded that exercise builds muscle and bone strength, improves balance and coordination, prevents falls and enables seniors to enjoy a more vibrant lifestyle.
Obesity, in the young and old can cause serious medical complications and impairs quality of life. Additionally, being overweight can lead to a frailty and decreased physical function, meaning that an obese elderly person has a harder time getting around and may get injured more easily. Weight-loss therapy has been shown to improve physical function, quality of life, and the medical complications associated with obesity in the elderly. But, it is of the utmost importance than any elderly weight loss program focuses on minimizing both muscle and bone loss.
Some studies regarding obesity in elderly adults have concluded that that intentional weight loss in the elderly is associated with reduced mortality rates. This is especially true in persons with diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, and other similar health conditions. Although weight loss in obese persons of any age has the effect of improving obesity-related illnesses and diseases, physical function, and quality of life, the primary focus of any weight loss therapy depends upon the age groups. For elderly individuals, the focus is more on improving physical function and quality of life versus counteracting the effects of obesity related illnesses.
In the end, weight loss in the elderly is a complicated and even controversial topic. For seniors, it’s difficult to keep track of weight-loss, especially over time and they may not even notice that the pounds have fallen off. It is extremely important that caregivers, family and friends help to monitor the eating habits and weight of elderly individuals in their care. Significant, relatively fast weight-loss is always a cause for concern and should be discussed with a medical professional immediately. Weight loss in elderly individuals that are obese, however, can have a positive effect on health, mobility and life enjoyment, if done correctly. The jury is really still out as to whether or not elderly individuals should attempt to lose weight, and it is really determined on the person’s overall health and the reason for the weight loss.