obesity and the elderly | Care in Kent

It’s National Obesity Awareness Week, and while it’s a fact that we as a nation are getting bigger, regardless of age, it’s also true that the range of health complications that go hand-in-hand with being overweight can pose even more of a risk to those of us who are older. Worldwide, 70% of people over the age of 65 are overweight or obese, and when we take into account that being older already comes with the risk of a wider range of health problems, it’s a worrying statistic.

Our metabolism changes as we age, meaning we need less calories to stay healthy than we did in our younger years. We also burn those calories less efficiently, and so it’s easy for the weight to start creeping on if we don’t adjust our calorie intake. Couple that with the fact that generally we are less active as we age, either through lifestyle changes, mobility issues or illness, and it’s no wonder that 77% of people in the UK aged between 65 and 74 are overweight or obese.

The old adage of ‘eat less, move more’ might be a sustainable solution for the younger generations, but for older people it’s not that cut-and-dry and the way that obesity affects older people can be very different to the way it affects younger adults.

Most of the organs and cells in the human body are negatively affected if we are carrying excess weight, and common health conditions associated with obesity include heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes. It can also exacerbate existing conditions, for example overweight people who are living with diabetes have a higher risk of having a stroke or developing kidney disease. Being overweight also impacts on our mobility, putting a strain on the joints, and has been linked to cognitive function. As cognition is so important when it comes to ensuring that older people live happy and independent lives, it’s more important than ever for seniors to maintain a healthy weight.

In addition to perhaps being less active as we age, there’s also a higher chance of needing to take medications, and there are certain types which can contribute to weight gain including antidepressants, beta-blockers and antiepileptic medication.

Regular exercise is of course a good way to get rid of excess weight, but muscle wastage and health problems can prevent older people from exercising as much as they normally would. If you are caring for an elderly loved one, encourage them to move as much as is comfortable. Even a regular, daily walk around the garden or the local park can help, and has the added advantage of being good for mental health as much as physically. If walking isn’t an option there are a number of exercises that can be performed from a chair, and you can find online classes like this online.

For older people, good nutrition can play more of a key part in ensuring a healthy weight than exercise, and a healthy and varied diet is essential. People of all ages should be eating a diet high in vegetables, high-fibre carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, pasta and rice, and low-fat proteins. Foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar should be consumed only in moderation, particularly if weight is an issue.

If you are caring for an elderly loved one and you have concerns about their weight, it is important to speak to a GP before helping them to make adjustments to their calorie intake or activity level – particularly if they already have existing health problems or are taking medication.