Senior Health

12/31/2020 | By Kari Smith

Many families have just gathered for the holidays, and you may have seen aging family members whom you do not see often. If you noticed weight changes in seniors – your aging loved one who may have lost or gained a lot of weight since you saw them – here are some things that may be worth discussing.

It could be that they do not have the access to the correct foods, the ability to prepare them, or the finances to purchase them. They also could be dealing with underlying health issues that have caused them to either gain or lose weight.

What Is a Healthy BMI for Seniors Age 65+?

1. Food Availability and Prep

Time and Energy

As seniors age, they may not have the energy to cook healthy meals. Even if they have the necessary stamina, they may also have challenges manipulating or grasping kitchen tools or knives. If their vision is suffering, they may even have a hard time reading recipes, product labels, or directions. 

Financial Resources and Accessibility

As your loved ones may be on a fixed income, do they have the financial resources to pay for groceries and quality, healthy foods? Do they have the ability and transportation to get to the store, the mobility to shop for what they need inside the store, or the strength to unload it and put it away when they arrive back home? These things may all prevent them from wanting – or the ability – to cook healthy meals at home.

2. Underlying Health Issues

When is the last time your loved one had a complete physical and medical exam? If they have access to healthy, prepared meals (such as in an assisted living facility) and still seem to be losing or gaining weight, it may zbe a sign of another illness. Underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, dementia, or even basic malnutrition can all cause unexplained weight changes in seniors. Additionally, mental health challenges such as depression can cause weight loss.

3. Weight Gain

Simply over-eating may not be the cause of your loved one’s weight gain. Even though they may be eating the same amount of food as before, metabolism and hormonal changes can contribute to weight gain. If your loved one is less active because of injury, or decreased mobility, they may feel unmotivated to exercise or maintain a healthy level of activity. If they continue to eat the same amount with less activity, they may also begin to gain weight.

What to do?

Whether your loved one lives with you, in a facility, or out of state, it is important to have an open dialogue with them regarding their health.

1. Have a conversation.

Just bringing up your concern may bring something to light that your loved one may not have noticed themselves. Even if they have noticed or are unwilling to discuss it, planting the seed may influence them to make changes or take action.

2. Assist with medical needs.

Be sure that your loved one has the resources and transportation necessary to schedule and attend regular medical appointments. If possible, go along (or ask a close friend or other family member) to be a second set of ears to make sure that any issues are addressed and that follow-up tasks, medications, or visits are completed.

3. Encourage an active lifestyle.

Even if your loved one has a place to safely walk, bike, or exercise nearby, look into fitness centers and programs that offer specialized training programs that serve their specific needs. They may also meet other like-minded individuals while participating in these programs, which may also boost their morale and provide important companionship.

4. Support healthy eating.

Meals prepared at home are often healthier and lower in fat and calories than restaurant meals. Instead of a restaurant gift card, consider gifting a weekly meal service for a period of time. These services (such as HelloFresh, Blue Apron, etc.) provide a recipe and all of the ingredients necessary for each meal, in perfectly-sized, healthy portions. This will keep them active in the kitchen, help them to continue to eat a variety of healthy foods without waste, and provide delivery straight to their door. These often lead to beneficial weight changes in seniors.

Most importantly, be sure that your loved one knows that you are coming from a place of care and concern for their well-being and health, and not from a place of judgement.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith