Q: My 88-year-old father lives in his own home about 100 miles from us. He’s been living alone since my mother died five years ago. I thought he looked rather thin last time we saw him. I’m starting to feel worried about his nutrition. Should I be concerned? Would you recommend he start drinking a supplement such as Boost or Ensure?
A: This question comes up a lot for families. It is indeed very common for older adults to experience unintentional weight loss at some point in late life.
The brief answer is that yes, you should be concerned. But I wouldn’t recommend you jump to purchasing Boost or Ensure.
Now, in most cases, some nutritional supplementation is in order. But before focusing on this, you should first get help figuring out why your father is losing weight.
For doctors, unintended weight loss is a major red flag when it comes to the health of an older person.
So in geriatrics, we usually recommend that an older person — or their caregivers — monitor weight regularly. This enables us to spot weight loss sooner rather than later.
Once we’ve spotted unintentional weight loss, the next step is to figure out what might be causing it. And then we’re in a better position to recommend a treatment plan, which might well include a nutritional supplement.
In this post, I’ll go over each of these steps in more detail.