Senior Starvation – A Problem that is Often Ignored

February 25, 2013

The number of older adults is projected to increase by 36% in the next decade and will continue to rise in the following decade too. According to recent estimates, the population of older Americans will approximately be 72.1 million, almost twice as many as in 2008.

Starving Seniors - Statistics by StateEmployment opportunities for senior Americans seem to be unattainable with the current market. Many health reports suggest a staggering 6 million people in this age group struggle daily to have meals.

To address this problem, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation initiated the Drive to End Hunger in February 2011.

The current recession has made the hunger problem much worse for older people  between 50-59 because they are too old to find jobs like their younger counterparts but are also too young to qualify for Social Security and Medicare programs.

The latest statistics show that more than 650 elderly residents and 157 vulnerable pensioners have died of dehydration and malnutrition in the past five years. According to Neil Duncan-Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention, “the fact that people are dying from these sorts of causes is absolutely shocking in the 21st century.” It is also worth noticing that the number of deaths linked to dehydration has doubled in the past five years.

Starvation and Malnutrition in Seniors

A growing number of case reports of anorexia nervosa, generally regarded as an adolescent disease, is now hitting seniors as well. While the reasons for anorexia are slightly different in the elderly as compared to the young, distress in

their lives, for emotional, physical, or other reasons, is the main factor. Other factors for elderly anorexia include use of medications that alter taste buds, untreated psychological factors from youth, loss of a loved one, memory issues (forgetting to eat, not remembering the last time they ate), etc.

Seniors who live in a controlled setting often feel refusing food is the only form of control they have left and feel that this is the only option that they can use to show their dissatisfaction or anger against their loved ones.   The risk with anorexia nervosa in the elderly is that it often accounts for more cases of fatalities than in younger people. Depression because of chronic diseases may also affect normal eating habits in the elderly.

Signs and symptoms

The appetite is controlled by several factors in the body. It is a complex interplay of hormones, with the active involvement of the senses of taste, smell and sight. An elderly person seems to have a healthy appetite when she desires food and is satisfied once enough food is consumed to maintain the blood sugar levels and provide energy for a period of time thereafter. It is usually a gradual decline in the appetite and the development of poor eating habits that leads to her starvation.

A nationwide campaign commenced in 2011 that aimed to raise awareness  to solve the problem of hunger in the elderly.  Some of the serious health consequences of  this problem are diabetes, depression, malnutrition, etc. These seem to be among the most challenging factors that our seniors are facing today.

As a person gets older, the body’s ability to regulate many functions, like metabolism, becomes impaired. Slower metabolism often leads to problems with energy levels and is one of the reasons that the elderly tend to feel fatigued more easily.  However, this is one problem that people are indifferent to and that needs to be addressed with immediate urgency.

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