We’ve seen it happen to Grandma, Aunt Jane, and the sweet elderly lady at church. These elderly loved ones are shrinking before our eyes, and we wonder, is this a normal part of aging? At what point should we be concerned? We know muscle and bone mass is gradually lost as we age due to a decrease in hormones, metabolism, and activity, but there is cause for pause when an elderly loved one’s weight is dropping too quickly.

What causes unintentional weight loss?

There are three primary categories for the causes of unintentional weight loss in the elderly, phycological, medical, and age-related. Age-related unintentional weight loss includes the typical factors we’ve already discussed: loss of muscle and bone mass. One of the leading psychological causes of unintentional weight loss is depression. Unintentional weight loss could also be an indication of another underlying medical condition including gastrointestinal problems and another leading cause of unintentional weight loss: cancer. Other factors that can contribute to unintentional weight loss are dementia, restricted diet, changes in the ability to taste and smell, and stress.

How much weight loss is too much?

Experts say a 5-10% drop in overall weight within 12 months or less could be cause for concern and should prompt a visit to the doctor. Excessive weight loss could be a sign of a serious underlying problem, or it could bring on other medical issues, so a doctor’s care should be sought.

Is unintentional weight loss preventable?

Depending on the underlying cause, unintentional weight loss could be preventable. Many elderly people lack necessary vitamins in their diet or experience a decrease in their body’s ability to absorb them. Also, a lack of protein in their diet can be a common factor in excessive weight loss in elderly people. A doctor may order lab tests to identify any underlying medical problem or suggest dietary changes. Sometimes previously instated restrictive diets are lifted in order to re-establish appropriate weight. Whatever the cause, seeking a health care provider as quickly as possible after noticing excessive weight loss is a good idea.

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