The sun does many things for us - it keeps us warm, makes us happy and also gives us vitamin D which is important for overall health. During the summer months we can absorb vitamin D through the skin but in the winter months when the sun is weaker and we tend to stay indoors, those levels can wane. Vitamin D is important to the health of seniors
but they are especially vulnerable to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as the body ages. Fortunately, it is easy to determine if deficiencies exist and then address them. Here is what you need to know about the all-important vitamin D.
What does vitamin D do?
Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphate levels in the body which contribute to healthy bones. It also plays a role in our overall sense of health and well-being. Research shows that deficiencies of this important vitamin can cause weakening of the bones, rickets (softening of the bones), bone pain, muscle weakness, and in extreme cases can even cause conditions as wide ranging as asthma, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases.
Why are seniors more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiencies?
- Less frequent exposure to sunlight. This is a special problem in elderly who are housebound, institutionalized, or have reduced mobility.
- A decrease in the capacity of the skin to synthesize vitamin D. In the elderly the skin produces 4-times less vitamin D when exposed to the sun, as compared to younger people
- A decrease in the capacity of the kidneys to convert vitamin D into its most active form.
Health conditions may also decrease vitamin D levels. They include:
- Gastrointestinal diseases and conditions including gastric bypass surgery, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and Crohn's disease.
- Kidney or liver disease. These organs play a vital role in creating the biologically active form of vitamin D in the body.
- Obesity (BMI of 30 or greater). Fat cells extract vitamin D from the blood.
People with dark skin may have a decreased ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight. The skin pigment melanin has been shown to inhibit the production of vitamin D by the skin.
If your loved one suffers from osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, it is important to have their vitamin D levels tested. Vitamin D deficiency is currently underdiagnosed in the United States. A simple blood test can determine whether or not there is a deficiency. The test is not recommended for everyone but is commonly used for people who may have signs of weakened bones or who may have risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.
What is the best way to treat Vitamin D deficiency?
Fortunately, treating a vitamin D deficiency is easy with the correct supplements and good food. Before buying a supplement for your loved one check with his or her physician. Seniors may need higher levels of vitamin D but you need to know the correct dose and ensure that it will not conflict with prescription medications and other supplements. Generally, the daily vitamin D allowance for seniors aged 60 years and over is 800 to 1000 IU/day.
Good food will help to supplement vitamin D levels as well. The main source of vitamin D
in foods can be found in products that have been fortified to include the vitamin, such as milk and other dairy products. Vitamin D is only found naturally in significant levels in a few foods, including fatty fish, cod-liver
oil, and eggs.
Maintaining good nutrition in seniors can be tricky depending upon their dietary restrictions, appetite and ability to prepare food for themselves. Home Care Assistance can support your loved one by grocery shopping and preparing nutritious meals.
Our lifestyle support services will help to foster good nutrition and make sure that your loved one gets the vitamins and minerals necessary for good physical health. Our Balanced Care Method™ training teaches caregivers the importance of nutrition
, exercise, social ties, mental and spiritual health, and how all these things can contribute to longevity and wellbeing for seniors and individuals of all ages. Caregivers are also trained in knowing what foods are the most beneficial, depending on the client’s health, habits and goals.