Identifying and Treating OFSED in the Elderly Adult

Older man looking on

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorder, is a diagnosis for serious problems that do not meet the criteria for other eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia.

OSFED is actually the most common eating disorder diagnosis, even touching the elderly, because it’s a blanket diagnosis for many eating disorders that do not fit exactly into boxes. [1]

For example, someone who restricts food and has weight loss but not enough to be considered “underweight,” which is required for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, may be diagnosed with the OSFED atypical anorexia nervosa.

Difficult to Detect and Treat

OSFED is difficult to detect and treat in all populations because symptoms may not scream out danger to a physician or family members. This is especially true with the elderly, who do not typically develop eating disorders. Food restriction or bingeing in older people could be correlated with their age.

Grandma-243298_640x480The truth, however, is that eating disorders exist and thrive in older people because, despite their age, many still feel body-conscious. A study of about 1,000 women ages 60-70 found nearly half of the women wanted to be thinner than they were. More than 80% controlled their weight and over 60% said they were unhappy with their bodies. [2]

“Although EDs and body dissatisfaction are typical for young women, they do occur in female elderly,” authors of the study wrote, “and therefore should be included in the differential diagnosis of elderly presenting with weight loss, weight phobia, and/or vomiting.

It’s also more difficult for older people to notice and admit the existence of OSFED in themselves for the same reasons their loved ones and doctors have. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but it is.

As We Age

grandma and bride-663206_640x426Our bodies, as they age, become less resilient and more vulnerable to side effects of an eating disorder. In fact, senior women comprise 78% of all deaths caused by anorexia, and 69 is the average age women die from the disease.

Treatment with all eating disorders is different and variant to the individual struggling from it. OSFED is no exception. Some patients with an eating disorder falling in the OSFED category may have to be hospitalized if physical symptoms are threatening; others may benefit from the constant supervision and support in a residential treatment center; and, still, some individuals with OSFED may be successful with an outpatient program.

A doctor and/or therapist can help make an assessment for each elderly person with OSFED.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are your thoughts on the Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder in the elderly population? Were you aware of its existence? If so, how have you been affected by it?

Leigh BellAbout the Author: Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


[1]: Maloy, O. (2015, May 10). OSFED: Why You’ve Never Heard Of This Common Eating Disorder Save this for later. Retrieved December 19, 2016.
[2]: Mangweth-Matzek, B., Rupp, C. I., Hausmann, A., Assmayr, K., Mariacher, E., Kemmler, G., & Whitworth, A. B. and Biebl, W. (2006), Never too old for eating disorders or body dissatisfaction: A community study of elderly women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 39, 583–586.

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
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