Clinical investigations from the RACP

Investigating weight loss in the elderly

George Szonyi



Weight loss in the elderly is common. It is frequently associated with undernutrition, which itself is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. To determine the cause of unintentional weight loss, a full assessment and work up of the patient is necessary.

Key Points

  • Weight loss of more than 5% body weight in six months in the elderly is significant and suggests undernutrition.
  • Measure weight routinely.
  • Confirm that weight loss is occurring by recording and monitoring a patient’s weight.
  • Look for low serum albumin and/or prealbumin levels.
  • Consider depression, dementia, and drug interactions as potential causes of weight loss.
  • Perform a full assessment and work-up of the patient to determine the cause of weight loss.
  • For nonmedical causes of weight loss, consider referring patients to a dietitian, speech pathologist or dentist.