Weight Loss in Seniors Linked to Early Death

For many older adults, maintaining a healthy body weight is a struggle, and despite dietary restrictions and regular activity, the numbers on the scale can creep up with the years.  But losing a considerable amount of weight in older age has been linked with an increased risk for premature death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses according to a new study

Starting in middle age, adults are encouraged to be more mindful of eating a nutritious diet, stay active, stop smoking and shed extra pounds to protect health and longevity.  But dropping more than 5 percent of body weight over 65 can be a sign of possible illness or other health conditions – especially if the weight loss is unintentional. 

According to a recent New York Post report, researchers analyzed data gathered from the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly clinical trial of more than 16,000 healthy patients over the age of 65 in the U.S. and over 70 in Australia, between 2010 and 2014. 

Compared with seniors who maintained their weight, those who dropped as little as 5 percent of their body weight had a higher risk of all-cause mortality compared with those who maintained their weight.  Men who lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight were at a 33 percent greater risk of early death, and losing more than 10 percent saw a 289 percent increased risk.  Women who lost 5 to 10 percent of their weight were at a 25 percent increased risk for premature death and 114 percent more likely to meet an early grave with a 10 percent weight loss or greater. 

The study, led by Monira Hussain out of Monash University in Australia, did not indicate if the weight loss was due to a restricted diet, or unintentional due to illness or another factor.  Although healthcare professionals widely acknowledge that weight loss often precedes a cancer diagnosis, this new study demonstrates that a significant loss of weight in older age may also be a result of underlying cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, trauma or dementia.  These illnesses may lead to a loss of appetite influenced by inflammation or hormonal changes in the body. 

The Takeaway?  

Although carrying excess weight throughout life, especially in middle age, is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, significant weight loss among older adults can be a warning sign.  The research highlights the importance of noting significant weight loss in seniors as part of any regular healthcare screening.