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Is It Normal to Lose Weight as You Age?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 16, 2021

Weight loss is something many adults strive for. Most of us have looked in the mirror at some point and figured we could stand to lose a few pounds. Your doctor may have instructed you to lose weight for your health. But as we age, some of us might find that we’re losing weight without meaning to. 

Unintentional weight loss is a common issue in older adults. While there can be medical factors involved, there’s often no explanation for the pounds that simply slip away. About 25% of patients who are older adults experience unexplained weight loss of some kind. 

Weight Loss as You Age: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

Normal weight loss. As you get older, you start to lose lean body mass like muscle and bone density. As early as age 30, our lean body mass starts to drop by a little over half a pound each year. You might not notice a change when you step on the scale, because the lean weight you lost is often replaced by fat.  

Men vs. women. Weight loss can be different for men and women. Men tend to gain weight until age 55, and then slowly start to lose it in the years that follow. This could be because men produce less testosterone after this age. Women, on the other hand, usually stop gaining weight once they hit age 65. 

Abnormal Weight Loss. After the age of 65, it’s typically normal to lose 0.2 to 0.4 pounds of body weight every year. Unintentional weight loss can be dangerous if you lose 5% or more of your body weight every 6-12 months. 

What Causes Weight Loss as You Age?

Reasons for weight loss. Many factors can contribute to your clothes fitting a little looser as you get older. Most of these are social, psychological, and medical reasons, including: 

  • Cancer
  • ‌Stomach or intestinal disease
  • ‌Depression
  • ‌Dementia
  • ‌Diabetes or other endocrine disorders
  • ‌Heart problems
  • ‌Alcoholism
  • ‌Kidney disease
  • Side effects of medication (can include loss of appetite) 
  • ‌Financial issues
  • ‌Problems with finding nutritious food or feeding oneself
  • ‌Not getting enough food (malnutrition) 
  • ‌Late-life paranoia
  • ‌Dental issues

If none of these apply to you, you aren't alone. The cause of unintentional weight loss is still unknown for up to 28% of patients. 

Health Concerns About Weight Loss

Problems and concerns. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for good health and independence as you age. Unintentional weight loss is a big risk factor in older adults for multiple reasons. 

Unintentionally losing too much weight as you get older can cause: 

  • Decreased quality of life 
  • ‌Increased risk of death (mortality) and disease (morbidity) 
  • ‌A decline in physical activities that promote health
  • ‌Increased risk of health-related accidents like bone fractures
  • ‌Greater risk for admission to a hospital or other institution 

How to Maintain a Healthy Weight as You Age

Diet. It’s so important to eat a nutritious diet as you get older. A healthy diet can prevent a host of health problems. A proper nutrient intake can even keep you looking younger as the years pass.

Some people find that their appetite decreases a lot as they age. It could be that you’re on a low-sodium diet and that just doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you simply don’t want to eat three large meals per day. 

Eating tips. Try the following tips to increase your caloric intake every day and make your mealtimes more enjoyable: 

  • Eat smaller meals and more snacks during the day, instead of large meals. 
  • ‌Keep high-calorie, ready-to-eat snacks in the kitchen like nuts, cheese, and fruit cups. 
  • ‌Eat full-fat dairy instead of non-fat when you have the option. 
  • ‌Include high-fat foods like avocado and peanut butter in your diet. 
  • ‌Top savory dishes with cheese.
  • ‌Eat socially when possible. This can make for a more enjoyable experience that you look forward to. 
  • ‌If you smoke, avoid doing so before mealtimes as it can decrease your appetite.
  • ‌Consider ordering from a meal delivery service. You can often customize meals to your dietary needs, and there’s little to no cooking involved. 
  • ‌Keep frozen and canned fruits and veggies available. They’re easy to prepare and pack a punch nutritionally. 
  • ‌Stay active as much as possible. This can increase your appetite. 

Prevention is key as you get older, and maintaining a healthy diet can help you avoid lots of health problems.

Getting Help for Weight Loss

Go to the doctor. If you notice that you’re rapidly losing weight, the best thing to do is to find out if there’s an underlying cause. That means going to the doctor and getting an exam. 

Your doctor will perform a complete examination, and will probably do some screening tests. They’ll take blood and urine samples and analyze them to figure out if there’s a medical reason you’re losing weight. Your doctor may also perform an assessment to rule out psychological conditions like dementia and depression, which can affect your food intake. 

They’ll also ask you questions about your nutrition. Usually, this involves you or a caretaker filling out a questionnaire about what you eat daily. It’s important to be honest when answering these questions. Even if you’re eating enough calories every day, they might be able to identify other areas in your diet that need improvement. 

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

American Family Physician: “Unintentional Weight Loss in Older Adults.”

CMAJ: “An approach to the management of unintentional weight loss in elderly people.”

Geriatrics & Aging: “An Approach to the Nonpharmacologic and Pharmacologic Management of Unintentional Weight Loss Among Older Adults.” 

Mayo Clinic: “Healthy aging: Beyond 50.”

NHS: “Keeping your weight up in later life.”

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