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Weight Control In The Elderly
For the young and the middle aged, weight control is a matter of appearance first and health second. This is not true of the elderly, where weight control can have a huge impact on the quality of life. This is not to say that the elderly do not care about their appearance. They do, but the health aspects of weight are far more serious and continue to gain in importance for the elderly, as they continue to age.
There are various factors that affect weight control in the elderly. The physiological problems that may have developed over the years can have a huge impact on an elderly person’s weight, but this is a purely medical issue which will require medication and specialized treatment to get resolved. The other reason for weight problems among seniors are an inability for cook for themselves, difficulty in either affording or procuring food of the right quality and type that their bodies now need or as is most common, an ignorance of their dietary requirements now that they are old.
Most elderly people are unaware of the changes their bodies undergo as they age and the way it affects the absorption of nutrients by the metabolism. Many studies have shown that a majority of the elderly are undernourished, even if they are over weight. This contradictory situation occurs when the food consumed is not what the body needs, but what puts on un-required weight. This often occurs because what were acceptable food habits in a younger person become dangerous as the person ages. This is why modifying the diet to suit the physical changes the elderly body has undergone and is undergoing is the key to weight control.
Here are some basic facts in connection with their eating habits which most of the elderly do not appreciate:
As we age, the body dehydrates at a faster rate requiring a greater fluid intake. The common problem of incontinence among the elderly often causes them to reduce their liquid intake just when they should be looking at increasing it. This leads to thin but unhealthy bodies.
Iron deficiency arises from the fact that weakened digestion is not able to extract as much iron as it used to and the elderly do not make their diet more iron rich. Once again the result is a thin, but weak body.
The medications consumed over the years, even for a healthy person, have an accumulative effect and alter the way our bodies are able to absorb nutrients. The result can be seen in the elderly who eat food with a high fat content which stays in the body, but their inability to absorb the nutrients makes the fat covered body undernourished.
As the metabolism slows down with age, the calorie needs drop. If the elderly do not modify their diets accordingly, they will end up with undernourished bodies that may look healthy externally.
A loss or reduction in the senses of taste and smell often results in a lack of interest in food which leads to weakness and undernourishment.
A fear of physical injury often leads to an overcautious approach to even the basic exercise requirements which results in an impaired digestive system. This could cause even those who eat properly to be either under nourished or to be over weight, depending on the nature of the problem.
Many of the elderly think that weight problems – either being under or over weight – are a normal part of the aging process and accept it as inevitable. They have seen their parents and grandparents go through the same thing and take it as part of the natural scheme of things. What they do not realize is that today, we have a far greater understanding of the human body and the aging process than existed even a generation ago and what was considered inevitable then is no longer so.
What is important is for the elderly to be educated on their changing dietary requirements and the need to modify their dietary habits. This is not as simple as it sounds. Firstly the elderly are often set in their ways and are unwilling to change. And secondly there is a lack of appreciation of the consequences of not controlling their weight. Part of this is often psychological. To admit to oneself that eating the four slices of pizza one ate when one was 25, is, for many people, an admission of loss- the loss of their youth, the loss of their abilities, and the loss of a long term future.
It is for this reason that weight control among the elderly needs to be taken up not a purely a physical issue but as a psychological one also. Telling the elderly what to do is often ineffective - it’s not that they do not understand; it is often that they do not want to. Explaining the problem of being over or underweight in objective terms and by making general statements is often better than a direct personal approach.
Of course, weight control problems in the elderly can occur due to undiagnosed medical issues, whether age related or not. With the onset of the aging process, especially in those over the age of 65, it is common to take aches, pains, insomnia or excessive sleep, digestive disorders and other such things as a matter of course. While these are common symptom of aging, there may be an underlying cause that is overlooked because the problem is taken for granted. These physiological problems, if undetected, will not only progress rapidly in the elderly body which has a low level of resistance, but may also cause weight control issues which can cause a completely different set of health problems among the elderly.
In the end, the issue of weight control for the elderly is not just one of diet and exercise. It is a question of lifestyle and the need for the elderly to understand their dietary and exercise needs. But beyond that it is important for them to be given a vision of how weight problems affects the quality of their lives and how much better off and happier they would be, both physically and mentally, if they took the dietary and exercise steps need to keep their weight under control.
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