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Unintended Weight Loss

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Losing weight isn’t a normal part of ageing. Here’s what you need to know…

One in 10 people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, according to a recent report, although it can affect younger people too, or be linked to unsuspected dehydration.

Malnutrition can severely damage our health and can even be fatal — it contributed to 351 deaths in the UK in 2016, although the real figure may be much higher. We may not really notice weight loss in ourselves or others, blame it (wrongly) on getting older, or even be pleased when we weren’t really trying, but taking it seriously means any serious cause can be detected and treated as quickly as possible.

Illnesses linked to weight loss

Severe infections such as pneumonia can trigger weight loss, although we usually regain this in the following weeks. New research into people over 60 has shown that one in seven men (one in 15 women) with unintentional weight loss has cancer.

Type 1 diabetes (not obesity related) can cause weight loss, frequent urination, thirst and tiredness, leading to death if not diagnosed. Weight loss can also be triggered by bowel disorders which stop nutrients being absorbed properly (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and coeliac disease), an overactive thyroid and rheumatic or inflammatory diseases. Depression and anxiety can reduce appetite and interest in food these also decline in the last stages of dementia and terminal illness.

Poor Diet

This can cause weight loss through lack of calories (energy). It can be hard to motivate yourself to eat well if you live alone; cost may be an issue, too. People with physical or mental health problems may struggle with meal planning, shopping and food preparation, eat more slowly, or lack help and encouragement to finish meals. Poor teeth, a dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing, neurological and memory problems make eating more difficult, too.

The Tests

Record your nude weight (before breakfast) weekly to track unexpected changes (in either direction); If you lose more than a few pounds for no reason, or clothes seem looser, see your GP, who may arrange blood tests for anaemia, diabetes, thyroid disease, inflammatiun, iron and Vitamin levels or, if your symptoms suggest possible cancer, they may refer you to have relevant tests within two weeks. You may need X-rays, scans, a swallowing assessment or telescope examinations (endoscopies), with treatment for the underlying cause. You may also be referred to a dietician or offered vitamin mineral supplements or medical nutritional replacement shakes.

6 Ways To Stay Nourished

1. Follow the Eatwell Guide for information on a healthy balanced diet containing all the food groups, or ask your practice nurse for a printed version.

2. Carefully chosen snacks, convenience or frozen foods and lots of fruit and veg can be as nutritious as three meals a day.

3. Eat protein and exercise regularly to reduce age-related muscle loss.

4. If you rarely go out, cover up outside or are over the age of 65, take a daily 10mcg vitamin D supplement to strengthen your bones.

5. Drink alcohol only within recommended limits. It contains ‘empty calories’, dulls the appetite and can lower vitamin levels.

6. If you struggle with planning, shopping, cooking or eating meals, ask about Meals on Wheels, aids from occupational therapy, and/or help from carers.

E280 – Unintended Weight Loss –

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