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An Approach to the Diagnosis of Unintentional Weight Loss in Older Adults, Part One: Prevalence Rates and Screening


Karen L. Smith, MSc, Kunin Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit, Baycrest and Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.
Carol Greenwood, PhD, Kunin Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit, Baycrest and Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.
Helene Payette, PhD, Research Center on Aging, Health & Social Services Center - University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC.
Shabbir M.H. Alibhai, MD, MSc, Division of General Internal Medicine & Clinical Epidemiology, University Health Network; Geriatric Program, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute; Departments of Medicine and Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.

Unintentional weight loss is a common problem among community-dwelling older adults. Although a slight decline in body weight is considered a normal part of the aging process, clinically significant weight loss (>5% of usual body weight) has harmful consequences on functional status and quality of life, and is associated with excess mortality over a three- to twelve-month period. A variety of physical and psychological conditions, along with age-related changes, can lead to weight loss. In up to one-quarter of patients, there is no identifiable cause. A rational approach to clinical investigation of these patients can facilitate arriving at a diagnosis and minimize unnecessary diagnostic procedures.
Key words: weight loss, older adults, mortality, epidemiology, diagnosis.