“Lately, my mother has been giving in to temptation, and she is definitely putting on weight. She is having trouble fitting in her clothes, but buying new things is not the problem. I am more worried about what she is doing to her health. What can I do to help her?” – Marcy from Lilburn

 

This is a tricky one because few concerns are quite as personal as one’s weight. You are dealing with more than just a number on a scale when it comes to seniors and obesity, and you should definitely address your concerns with tact and sensitivity. Here’s a little background to help you deal with this complex health concern.

A Growing Population

Obesity is on the rise across the country and can affect every generation, even seniors. They are also not able to lose weight as easily as younger people because they may be less physically active and have a slower metabolism. They do not have the same caloric needs, but they may still have a healthy appetite that can create an imbalance between intake and energy use.

In addition, seniors may lose height due to spinal deterioration or osteoporosis. They may also lose muscle mass because they are less active, and that muscle can be replaced with fat. Being a little shorter and a little softer can throw off the scales and the BMI index.

Another part of the problem for seniors and obesity is the food itself; processed foods tend to have more fat and sugar than food you prepare yourself. Those processed foods can also be yummy to people whose taste buds may not be as finely tuned as they once were. Older people are known for their sweet tooth because they may be able to taste sweeter foods better than savory ones. When you consider what foods are eaten with the slower ability to digest, you can see why gaining weight can be a natural consequence for some seniors.

Weight gain can occur in any environment. Seniors at home may be indulging in treats when they are able to make their own choices and purchases. Elderly people in assisted living communities may also gain because meals may be nutrient or calorie-dense and typically end with dessert. While that may work well for active seniors, others may find heavier meals and comfort foods can affect the scale.

Why It Matters

Obesity can make other health problems worse in anyone but can be especially hard for seniors who may already struggle with declining physical or mental health. Some of the conditions that may be impacted by excess weight include:

  • Hypertension
  • Adult-onset diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Arthritis or other bone and joint problems

In addition to making physical conditions worse or limiting mobility, seniors and obesity can also lead to cognitive difficulties, including memory loss or poor recall as well as trouble with problem-solving and decision-making. Weight gain, combined with other physical conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol, may also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Making Changes

Elderly people may not be the most motivated when it comes to change in general, but especially with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Luckily, they can experience an improvement in wellbeing with a modest weight loss of less than ten percent. You can encourage low-impact exercise, strength training, and gradual dietary changes to make a difference. While bariatric surgery is another popular option for weight loss, you should get as much information as you can because any surgical procedure, especially one that requires general anesthesia, can be a health risk of its own. Begin with a conversation with a physician to not only decide which approach is safe, but also to evaluate prescriptions to see if any medications may be contributing to the weight gain.

Hopefully, your mother will agree to cut back or move more to improve her quality of life.

Best of Luck!

-Lisa

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