Unintended Weight Loss in Senior Adults

October 27,2016

At a time when everyone seems to be trying to shed unwanted weight, it is important to take note when a senior family member unexpectedly loses weight. The cause can be as simple as a loss of appetite or as complex as a disease-related metabolic disorder. According to Wikipedia, the cause of wasting syndrome (Cachexia) has been discussed for generations. The syndrome is characterized by an unexplained loss of weight, muscle atrophy, fatigue or weakness. Cachexia is a multi-factorial disorder that has long been considered as a positive risk factor for death. Although unexplained weight loss should be discussed with a doctor, there are also benign causes as a senior's body ages.


Common Causes of Unintentional Weight Loss (UWL)

When a senior adult did not try to lose weight and lost more than 5% of his or her normal weight in less than a year, it is important to seek the advice of a medical professional. Listed below are some common causes of UWL:

  • Cancer
  • Overactive Thyroid
  • Celiac Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Malnutrition
  • Dementia (often related to changes in sense of smell or taste)
  • Viral Infection (HIV or AIDS)
  • Medications (prescription or over-the-counter)
  • Parasites
  • Peptic Ulcers or Ulcerative Colitis


Some unexplained weight loss is not directly related to a specific disease but may have an indirect medical link. In addition, the cause of UWL can come from a combination of things. A dental problem can lead to a loss of appetite as the person unconsciously avoids a toothache.   


Decreased Ability to Process or Absorb Food

Although stress is normally associated with weight gain, higher than normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol can decrease the body's ability to absorb and process the nutrients contained in foods consumed. However, an increase in cortisol more often leads to the body storing the fuel from food as fat; but a reduction in nutritients can cause weight loss. More common would be the onset of diabetes. The body naturally relies on insulin to access glucose from foods and feed muscles (and other cells). When someone's body becomes insulin-resistant, there may not be enough glucose available for fuel. This can lead to the body using stored fat and eventually muscle tissue to provide energy. Malabsorption syndrome is another culprit that can be related to a number of gut disorders, which impede the proper absorption of proteins, carbohydrates and fats as well as important vitamins and minerals.


If you or a loved one have unexpectedly lost weight (10 lbs. or more), then schedule an appointment at either PrimeMED location. A board certified physician can provide a thorough physical examination and review your medical history to help determine the cause.