Hair Loss in the Elderly

senior woman

Hair loss in elderly men and women may not be something to worry about. Hair quality and distribution change considerably as a person ages. Other factors can affect it as well. Medications can lead to thinning hair. Some health conditions, such as thyroid dysfunction can also cause hair loss. If you notice significant hair loss, speak to your family doctor.

Hair Loss in Elderly or Balding

The most common cause of hair loss in aging men and women is androgenic alopecia, or balding. Individuals may start losing hair any time after puberty, but it is common for balding patterns to become present after the age of 40. This type of balding does not occur because of medications or disease. Rather, it is often hereditary. For example, if a man's father lost his hair as an elderly man, it is likely that his son will also lose his hair around the same time.

As a person ages, the growth rate of hair decreases. This happens because the follicles simply do not allow for hair growth as quickly. By the time a man is in his late 60s, 80 percent of men have some substantial balding or thinning present. Elderly women are affected, too. After menopause, the growth rate of hair slows dramatically. However, most women do not lose significant amounts of hair to make it noticeable.

Health Conditions Associated with Hair Loss

Hair loss in elderly individuals may also have a direct relation to a disease or other health conditions. In addition, medications used to treat some illnesses can trigger hair loss.

Elderly female
  • Iron Deficiency: In some studies, individuals who have significant hair loss may be iron deficient. The iron deficiency could be caused by other health conditions or a poor diet. In fact, doctors have found that by improving iron deficiency in both men and women, hair regrowth rates are higher.
  • Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a hormonal condition in which the thyroid hormone is not properly regulated. This may be a cause of autoimmune diseases. Hair loss happens rapidly. For some, the hair thins considerably. For others, with a more serious form of the condition, large chunks of hair may fall out. Since this condition slows metabolism, this causes the follicles to slow in hair growth. However, when hypothyroidism is controlled with medication, the hair loss usually stops.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can cause hair loss in some individuals. The stress of this illness causes hair to stop growing. When new hair does grow in place, it grows in slowly. Those with Type 2 diabetes may have hormonal imbalances, which can lead to hair loss. Effective management of diabetes may improve hair loss.

Poor Diet

Poor nutrition may contribute to hair loss in elderly. A diet that is deficient in nutrients causes hair shafts to weaken. This causes hair to break and to grow back slower. Some nutrients necessary for proper hair growth include:

  • Vitamin A
  • B Vitamins, including B6 and B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Biotin
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Iron

Many elderly individuals do not maintain a healthy diet. A diet rich in lean proteins (chicken and fish), vegetables and fruits often supply enough nutrients to avoid deficiencies.

Medications Causing Hair Loss

As individuals age, they may become more susceptible to illnesses. Some medicines used to treat these illnesses can cause hair loss.

  • Senior Woman
    Blood Thinners: Medications used to treat various heart conditions, including blood thinners, can lead to hair loss. These medications are anticoagulants.
  • Gout Medications: Gout medications such as allopurinol can cause hair loss.
  • Chemotherapy Medications: These medications specifically target cell production, which happens when hair grows. Since chemotherapy drugs drastically destroy cells, which are dividing, the cells forming hair are lost. The hair falls out.

Other medications, which cause hair loss, include antidepressants and larger doses of vitamin A. The American Hair Loss Association lists a number of medications, which can lead to hair loss.

Slowing Hair Loss

The makers of Viviscal, an anti-thinning product, suggest that nourishing the hair follicles with vitamin C, biotin and silica can slow down hair thinning and loss because of the benefit to the hair follicles. Seniors who experience hair loss may actually be experiencing a vitamin or mineral deficiency alongside the typical aging of hair follicles, so a more balanced diet will be beneficial in slowing the thinning of hair.

Since aging hair generally does not grow at as rapid a pace as it once did, it's important to protect the hair in order to slow down additional thinning. For example, tight hairstyles like ponytails can be damaging, as can frequent use of curling irons and blow dryers. Prevention Magazine suggests people with thinning hair should replace the natural scalp oils lost in aging by using olive oil on the scalp while sleeping at night.

Treating and Preventing Hair Loss

There are several types of medications and supplements available that help slow down and treat hair loss in men and women. According to Harvard Medical School, the following are helpful treatment options for women:

  • Rogaine: This is otherwise known as Minoxidil, and research is still a bit unclear as to why this works so well. What started off as a blood pressure medication is now a topical solution that stimulates hair growth. It takes about two months to see results, and you will need to keep using it to prevent your hair from continuing to fall out.
  • Anti-androgens: These refer to androgen receptor blocking medications. Although less commonly used for treatment, women who do not see any results from Minoxidil may be prescribed these types of medications.
  • Hair Transplant: During this procedure, the doctor will remove a small part of the scalp to create grafts. These grafts contain a few hairs and are placed in the balding areas. New hair will grow in within a few months.

According to Web MD, treatment options for men include:

  • Quitting smoking can actually assist in hair loss prevention if you are starting to notice a decline in your hair growth.
  • Like women, men can also benefit from Minoxidil treatments to aid in slowing down hair loss and help with hair regrowth.
  • Finasteride is a medication that can help with hair regrowth. It is said to slow down DHT, a hormone that causes the hair follicle to shrink in size.

Understanding Hair Loss

Hair loss in elderly men and women may occur because of a combination of these situations. Hair loss can be a symptom of a much larger problem. For this reason, speak with your doctor to rule out any unknown problems.

Hair Loss in the Elderly