What Sudden Weight Loss Might Mean for an Older Person

Sudden and unexplained weight loss is a state of affairs that always warrants investigation. This is especially true when an older woman or man experiences any sudden, unexplained weight. If this is occurring, a prompt appointment with a primary care physician is a must. 

With that said, there are a number of different reasons why an older individual may be experiencing a sudden and heretofore unexplained weight loss. These include:

  • Oral or dental issues
  • Cancer
  • Physical issues that hamper meal preparation
  • Cognitive decline
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Alcoholism or alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Loss of taste or smell (or both)

Oral or Dental Issues

One of the more common underlying causes of a rather sudden weight loss in an older individual is an oral or dental issue. Simply, it hurts to eat.

There are a number of possible reasons why an older person doesn’t take action on his or her own when experiencing some sort of oral or dental issue. A chief reason is that an older person might default to concluding that he or she has a serious health issue like cancer. (This is noted but with a caveat that oral and dental issues without a relationship to something like cancer are significant and do need to be addressed.) Other older people conclude that the oral or dental issue is something that will pass. 


We did just mention cancer in your discussion. Unfortunately, among older people, cancer is a relatively common reason why a sudden weight loss occurs. Indeed, across the generational spectrum, cancer of different types can be the reason why a person experiences a sudden drop in weight.

The fact that cancer could be a cause of an older person losing weight rapidly underscores the need to seek medical attention. If any person has an unexplained weight loss, an appointment should be made with a doctor promptly. 

Physical Issues That Hamper Meal Preparation

As a person grows older, he or she may experience a number of issues that can hamper or impair movement in one way or another. For example, an individual might develop arthritis. If that happens, that person may face limitations on a number of activities. For example, preparing meals may become difficult because arthritis (or some other condition) makes it challenging (or even impossible) for a person to undertake all steps necessary to prepare a healthy meal. 

Physical issues impair an older person’s ability to prepare meals. That ongoing problem can result in what could prove to be a relatively quick weight loss. 

Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline represents another potential underlying or contributing cause to an older individual’s weight loss. A progressing cognitive issue like dementia can negatively impact a person’s nutrition and result in a relatively rapid weight loss in a number of different ways:

An older person with progressing cognitive issues may not recall how to prepare healthier meals. 

An aging individual facing something like dementia may think that he or she has eaten, when that is not the case. 


Diabetes that has not been properly diagnosed or is not being appropriately treated can result in an individual having a variety of health issues, including notable weight loss in some instances. Left undiagnosed or not properly treated if a known condition can have devastating and even fatal consequences.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Gastrointestinal disorders relatively frequently are the reasons why an older person experiences a more sudden weight loss. Conditions or disorders that typically represent the type of gastrointestinal ailment that result in weight loss include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Ulcers

Alcoholism or Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction can be yet another underlying cause of weight loss for an older individual. The reality is that a person with an alcohol issue many times ultimately fails to maintain a proper diet. This, combined with the excessive consumption of alcohol, can result in an older person experiencing a more rapid weight loss.


Depression can be the cause of a rapid weight loss for an elderly individual. A depressed individual oftentimes fails to eat regularly or a healthy diet when he or she does consume something. The net effect of this ends up being a relatively sudden drop in that individual’s weight.

Loss of Taste or Smell (or Both)

Some people have issues with their sense of taste or sense of smell as they grow older. When a person loses his or her sense of taste, sense of smell, or both, that can make eating even favorite foods less enjoyable. Eating less can result in what might prove to be a fairly sudden weight loss.