Doctors Treating Older Eating Disordered Patients

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Doctors Treating Older Eating Disordered Patients

Eating disorders have long been considered diseases of the young, but in recent years more women have been seeking help in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and older. According to Holly Grishkat, who directs outpatient programs at The Renfrew Center, women over 30 who seek treatment tend to fall into three categories. Some have had an eating disorder for years. Others had a disorder in remission that resurfaced because of new stress in life, such as a divorce or loss of a parent. A third group, the smallest of the three, includes women who develop an eating disorder late in life.

In 2005, about 60 percent of Renfrew’s patients over age 30 first suffered from an eating disorder at 18 or younger. Nearly 20 percent said they were 30 or older when they first encountered the problem. Another treatment facility, the Eating Disorders Institute, saw 43 patients’ ages 38 and older in 2003—about 9 percent of its total patients. For the first six months of this year, the Institute treated nearly 500 patients 38 and older, about 35 percent of its total.

While body image is an issue for any age group, women over 30 are dealing with different kinds of problems such as work, divorce, stepchildren and aging parents. They are also dealing with the aging process or childbirth, which changes the way they look.

Carol Tappen, director of operations for the Eating Disorders Institute, said the aging of the huge baby boomer population may be one reason her facility has seen more older patients. Not only are there now more people in this group, but this population has traditionally been image-conscious.

“Baby boomers have always cared about how they looked, what they wear,” Tappen said. “I think a lot of earlier cases of eating disorders went undiagnosed.”

Grishkat, of The Renfrew Center, encourages older women to seek age-specific treatment programs. Some may be embarrassed to get help alongside very young women. Also, some older women may take on maternal roles for younger girls when they should be focusing on themselves, she said.

“It’s not a lost cause at 30, 40, 50 years old,” she added. “You can still get better. In some sense, the older women do better in recovery than younger women. They tend to be more motivated.” (Source: Associated Press)

Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2007 Volume 5, Number 3
©2007 Gürze Books

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