Elderly patients with unintentional weight loss are at higher risk for infection, depression and death. The leading causes of involuntary weight loss are depression, cancer, heart disorders and digestive diseases.
Medications that may cause nausea and vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and anorexia can also cause unexpected weight loss. Multiple medication use, or polypharmacy, and the reduction of medications used in psychiatric disorders are also causes. Unfortunately, in as many as 25% of those with unintentional weight loss there is no identified cause.
In all cases, a visit to the physician are needed to determine unforeseen causes. The doctor will want to complete blood tests, a phydical exam, obtain a stool and a urine sample.
It is important to play close attention to the environment to determine other factors that may play a role. For example, many older adults lose weight due to disinterest in preparing a meal to eat alone. Others may rely on meals on wheels for the daily meal and ration out the contents for other meals. Addressing these issues are important to get to a possible solution such as sharing meal preparation duties and having congregate meals with neighbors. It is also possible that the older adult may think that they ate a sandwich a few hours earlier but was really yesterday. Short term memory loss or early dementia is a frequent culprit behind weight loss.
Once a cause is identified, treatment will be provided to treat the condition. Protein supplements and meal supplements are abundant on the market in both liquid and nutrition bar forms. Many appreciate supplements that have natural taste appeal including milk shakes made with ice cream, and peanut butter on bananas. Occasionally, if a person expresses a real aversion to food, appetite stimulants may help to improve the appetite.