Treatment of eating disorders in older people: a systematic review

Syst Rev. 2021 Oct 25;10(1):275. doi: 10.1186/s13643-021-01823-1.


Background: Historically, eating disorders were not identified in older populations and it is only in more recent times that there is greater recognition of the existence of eating disorders among the elderly. This is despite the high level of morbidity and mortality associated with these disorders. Current guidelines focus on treatment of eating disorders within the adolescent and general adult age groups, without apparent concessions made for the older age group. The aim of this study was to review existing literature on the demographics and treatment of eating disorders in older people.

Methods/design: A systematic review of the literature was conducted using CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycInfo, Scopus, and Web of Science to identify publications focusing on treatment of eating disorders in people over the age of 65 years, age of diagnosis, gender distribution, treatment setting, and treatment outcomes.

Results: A total of 35 articles (reporting on 39 cases) were relevant to our study, with 33 of the 35 articles being either case studies or case series. The mean age of participants was 73.2 years (range 66-94 years) with the majority (84.6%) being female. Most cases (84.6%) were diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, and 56.4% of all cases were reported as late onset (i.e., after age 40 years). The vast majority (94.8%) received treatment, of which 51.5% was hospital-based treatment. In case descriptions where improvement was reported, the majority described a multidimensional approach that included a combination of hospital admission, therapy and pharmacotherapy. Overall, 79.5% of cases who underwent treatment for an eating disorder improved, while 20.5% relapsed or died as a result of the complications from their eating disorder. There were significant inconsistencies and omissions in the way cases were described, thereby impacting on the interpretation of the results and potential conclusions.

Conclusions: The information available on the treatment of eating disorders in people over the age of 65 years is limited. The quality of case reports to date makes it difficult to suggest specific assessment or treatment guidelines for this population.

Keywords: Eating disorders; Older people; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Review