Anorexia of aging:
physiologic and pathologic

Division of Geriatrics,
St Louis University Medical School,
MO 63104, USA.
Am J Psychiatry 1999 Aug; 156(8):1170-6


Despite the increase in body fat and obesity that occurs with aging, there is a linear decrease in food intake over the life span. This conundrum is explained by decreased physical activity and altered metabolism with aging. Thus, older persons fail to adequately regulate food intake and develop a physiologic anorexia of aging. This physiologic anorexia depends not only on decreased hedonic qualities of feeding with aging (an area that remains controversial) but also on altered hormonal and neurotransmitter regulation of food intake. Findings in older animals and humans have provided clues to the causes of the anorexia of aging. An increase in circulating concentrations of the satiating hormone, cholecystokinin, occurs with aging in humans. In addition, animal studies suggest a decrease in the opioid (dynorphin) feeding drive and possibly in neuropeptide Y and nitric oxide. The physiologic anorexia of aging puts older persons at high risk for developing protein-energy malnutrition when they develop either psychologic or physical disease processes. Despite its high prevalence, however, protein-energy malnutrition in older persons is rarely recognized and even more rarely treated appropriately. Screening tools for the early detection of protein-energy malnutrition in older persons have been developed. Multiple treatable causes of pathologic anorexia have been identified. There is increasing awareness of the importance of depression as a cause of severe weight loss in older persons. Approaches to the management of anorexia and weight loss in older persons are reviewed. Although many drugs exist that can enhance appetite, none of these are ideal for use in older persons currently.
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