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Clinical investigations from the RACP

Investigating weight loss in the elderly

George Szonyi

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Abstract

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.

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