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January 27, 2016

Bulimia Nervosa in the Elderly Adult

Contributor: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

While eating disorder sufferers are commonly stereotyped as being young, Caucasian, females-the reality is that eating disorders do not discriminate based upon factors such as age, race, gender, or social class.

Eating disorders that occur in elderly individuals may often go unnoticed or unrecognized. “However, there is growing evidence that women aged 30 and above are increasingly struggling with disordered eating. This is an alarming trend that is on the rise.” [1]

Causes of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, like other mental illnesses, are caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition and environmental stressors. However, for elderly adults who are struggling with an eating disorder-the stressors that they are faced with may differ from individuals who are suffering at younger ages.

For instance, stressors that could trigger or perpetuate an eating disorder in an elderly individual could include, death of a spouse, loss of independence, retirement, and physical decline.

Grandma-441405_640x480Holly Grishkat, Ph.d., exemplified this point when she explained that stressors often trigger eating disorders (in addition to an underlying genetic vulnerability), however the stressors change due to an individual’s age.

Grishkat stated, “So while younger, the women may have been dealing with the transition from high school to college or from childhood to adulthood, older women’s stressors include such things as empty nest, divorce, loss of parents, widowhood, retirement, chronic illness/disability, death of an adult child, and growing old.” [2]

Additionally, according to Vivian Meehan, president and founder of The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders,

“Additionally, according to Vivian Meehan, president and founder of The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, older adults struggling with eating disorders often fall within three categories: individuals whose eating disorder went into remission and then remerged later, those who developed an eating disorder later in life, and those who have struggled for a longtime and never received treatment.” [3]

The Dangers of BN for Elderly Adults

Bulimia Nervosa is a dangerous disorder at any age, but may present with even further complications for elderly adults. According to WebMD, “If not treated, bulimia can lead to serious, long-term health problems. It is common for people to hide the condition from others for years.

grandparents-1054311_640x443By the time others discover the disorder, many people with bulimia already have serious problems. These range from mild to severe, depending on the type of purging behaviors and how long they have continued.” [4]

Further, it is important to note that elderly individuals are often more likely to be experiencing other health problems in combination with their eating disorder-which can further exacerbate the physical ramifications of their eating disorder.

For instance, elderly individuals are more likely to have conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiac issues, and gastrointestinal problems, which may all be further complicated by the presence of an eating disorder [5]

Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa

Additionally, there are often more barriers for elderly individuals in regards seeking treatment for bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders.

Portrait of confident doctor looking at camera.“The combination of older bodies becoming more vulnerable and the under diagnosis of eating disorders can also make older adults less likely to seek help for these conditions.” [6]

It is important that anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder is able to seek help and support-no matter what age they are. If you or someone you know is struggling with bulimia nervosa, it is truly a sign of strength to seek treatment and support. Full recovery is possible-it is never too late.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!!

What are your thoughts on Bulimia Nervosa and its variables as they relate to the age of the sufferer?


Jennifer Rollin photoAbout the author: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a therapist, body-image activist, and writer who specializes in working with adolescents, body image concerns, survivors of trauma, and mood disorders. Jennifer is a blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, as well as a contributing writer for Eating Disorder Hope. For body-positive, self-love, inspiration, “like” her on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW.


References

[1]: Middle-aged women and eating disorders. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/special-issues/older-women
[2]: Schaeffer, J. (n.d.) Elder eating disorders surprising new challenges. Retrieved from http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/exclusive_0409_03.shtml
[3]: Schaeffer, J. (n.d.) Elder eating disorders surprising new challenges. Retrieved from http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/exclusive_0409_03.shtml
[4]: Bulima nervosa health center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/bulimia-nervosa/bulimia-nervosa-what-happens
[5]: McIntosh, J. (2015). Older people and eating disorders: not ‘just a teenager’s problem.’ Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290023.php
[6]: 6. McIntosh, J. (2015). Older people and eating disorders: not ‘just a teenager’s problem.’ Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290023.php


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 26, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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