Why Elderly People Lose Weight and What You Can Do About It

May 4, 2018 8

It seems we spend most of our adult life battling the bulge wishing for an easy way to lose weight. But, for some older adults, unintentional weight loss causes medical problems. According to the American Family Physician , 16-28 percent of people experiencing unintended weight loss present with no easily identifiable cause.

Elderly people lose weight for many reasons. Natural changes in the body cause reductions in bone and muscle mass. But, rapid weight loss often has a more dynamic underlying cause. Understanding how certain illnesses affect weight, eating, and nutrition will help you create a diet plan to help your loved one.


According to the National Cancer Institute, advancing age is a very important risk factor for getting cancer. More than 40% of people reported unintended weight loss when diagnosed with cancer according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. While cancer is by no means the only cause of unexplained weight loss there is a strong correlation between why elderly people lose weight and cancer. Cancer takes a bite out of physic for many reasons. Cancer cells may affect metabolism and impact the immune system.

Changes to the immune system or metabolism may affect the way food is processed and supplied to the body. People with cancer sometimes report nausea, vomiting, and loss of taste. This makes eating undesirable to some cancer patients which may contribute to unintended weight loss. Depending on the systems affected by cancer, constipation, nutrient absorption, swallowing, and mechanical breakdown of food may become compromised.

If your loved one receives a diagnosis of cancer there are things you can do to help with unintended weight loss:.

Increase the amount of food your loved one gets.

Avoid heavy foods especially before treatments.

Record the foods your loved one eats and record how she feels after eating. Foods that increase nausea should be avoided.

Work with a dietician or nutritionist to create a diet plan that prevents unintended weight loss and nausea.


Dementia is the umbrella term for a constellation of illness that present with cognitive impairment including Alzheimer’s Disease. Changes in diet and weight are hallmark indications that mental processing may be affecting eating habits. Often, people who are experiencing mild cognitive impairment undergo subtle changes in diet. If you ask a loved one with mild cognitive impairment if she is hungry, she may say no. But, if you place a plate of yummy food infront of her she will dig right in. Sometimes people with dementia lose sensitivity to sensations of hunger and fatigue and must be cued to eat.

You can help your loved one stop unintended weight loss by giving food at appropriate meal times. Do not offer food. Your loved one may not recognize the need to eat. Take into consideration your loved one’s tastes and prepare to cater to them. People who experience cognitive change may also experience personality changes. Foods that were once adored might now be abhorred.

Change food presentation. Changes in food perception affect what your loved one perceives as appetizing. Big plates of food might look abundant but can cause anxiety in someone with dementia. Some studies have shown that color plates improve overall food intake over plain white plates – you can’t eat what you can’t see.

Model eating behaviors. Dementia often interferes with a person’s ability to complete simple processes. Busy tables make distinguishing food more difficult. And, the use of a fork might become more complicated than your loved one can manage. Consider offering finger foods. To learn more about dementia specific weight loss click here!


When elderly people lose weight it is important to check with their doctor to ensure medications are not contributing to unintended weight loss. Medications have a myriad of side effects. Some medications act as appetite suppressants or affect the body’s ability to process nutrients. Interactions between medications can also affect a person’s weight. Medication side effects may also include swelling and fatigue. While these symptoms do not directly affect nutritional processes they may adversely affect a person’s ability to prepare and shop for food.

Depression Loneliness and Pain

Depression may affect your loved one’s desire to engage in activity. People who experience depression often report a decrease in appetite. Elderly people lose weight unintentionally when they feel isolated. Your loved one may experience the loss of loved ones and independence. These emotional changes sometimes contribute to declines in food interest.

Pain impacts a person’s desire to engage in meals. If your loved one experiences pain, speak to her doctor about getting it under control. She may feel more interest in food if she doesn’t ache.

If you think your loved one’s weight loss stems from depression, loneliness, or pain, consider sharing mealtimes together daily. You can also hire a caregiver to prepare meals and offer companionship.

Wrap Up

Elderly People lose weight for a variety of reasons. You will need to be patient when encouraging more food intake. Underlying health, emotional, and cognitive issues make food consumption a lower priority or less efficient. Work with your loved one to find and create appetizing foods.



  • gary long

    June 15, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    My mom is ninety two years old. She weighs 62 lbs. She has been diagnosed with dementia. She doesn’t want to eat. What can I do? How do I deal with this trauma!

  • Jonna Overson

    August 6, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    Hello Gary,

    I am so sorry to hear about your situation. I have created an article that hopefully gives you some ideas of how to navigate a changing appetite here!

  • Carl Campbell

    December 7, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    God bless you and your mother Gary. My wife is 82 and has advancing dementia. I really understand your feelings. Even though we know the end is near we do everything in our power to help our loved ones: we do not want to overlook anything. They need us.

  • Carl Campbell

    December 7, 2021 at 9:23 pm

    By the way, a while a few months back our family doctor prescribed Megestrol 40mg for my wife to stimulate her appetite. It worked well and I am going to get more.

  • Bev

    June 27, 2022 at 4:10 am

    I’m male, 86. I feel great. I’m very active, but I lose, .8 lb in one day. Can that be normal?

  • Steve DEThomaso

    January 15, 2023 at 8:28 am

    im 57 years old, 4 years ago i quit drinking alcohol(im an alcoholic), in the last 2 years i have lost 95 pounds going from 240ish to 155 today, and i am not trying to lose the weight, i look like a concentration camp survivor, i have just lost the will to eat, i havent been to the drs in over a year, and i have beaten diabetes 2 times when i weighed over 220….im calling my doctor tomorrow to try to get in to see him, all my family is worried

  • Janet Arnold

    April 18, 2023 at 8:15 am

    Dementia is a terrible disease and to watch your loved ones get worst as time goes on. All we can do is take care of ourselves and take breaks. Try our best to keep them comfortable with pain medicine and encourage them to eat even if its milk shakes or Ensure is a protein drink comes in different flavors! Pray God will give you peace and your loved ones!

  • Irene Reid

    March 20, 2024 at 10:11 am

    I would like to get rid of my mid waist bulge …seems hard ….what Can I do ?

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