Vitamin D For Dummies
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As many as 70 percent of people age 70 and older have inadequate levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. They also tend to have low vitamin D levels all year long; they don’t get the summer boost from the sun. The elderly are deficient in vitamin D for these reasons:

  • Decreased ability to make vitamin D due to changes in their skin

  • Tendency to avoid the sun or live in places where they get less access to sun (such as nursing homes)

  • Diminished exposure to foods that contain vitamin D

  • Decreased memory, leading to failure to take vitamin D supplements

  • Some evidence that intestinal absorption of vitamin D is reduced in the elderly

Although testing the blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D is the only way to know for certain if someone is getting enough vitamin D, the 800 IU per day recommended by the Institute of Medicine should be sufficient for most elderly (unless the person has a problem with intestinal absorption of vitamin D, due to a previous surgery, celiac disease, and so on). Correcting low vitamin D status is a simple and effective way to protect the health of your elderly friends and family members.

Avoiding falls and fractures as an older person

Osteoporosis is the brittle bone disease that affects a large number of the elderly. But people forget that weak bones are only half the story — elderly people often break a bone only after they fall. Improving balance and muscle strength is very important for preventing falls and fractures.

About three percent of all falls result in fractures, including fractures of the pelvis, the hip, the femur (upper leg), the vertebrae, the humerus (upper arm), the hand, the forearm, the lower leg, and the ankle. Falls are a consequence of any or all of the following:

  • Environmental hazards

  • Impaired mobility

  • Impaired vision

  • Loss of balance

  • Side effects of medication

  • Weakness

A key to avoiding fractures is to build up bone and maintain it throughout life. These actions help safeguard bone health:

  • Taking vitamin D and calcium in sufficient quantities to strengthen bone throughout your life

  • Doing weight-bearing exercises to strengthen bone

  • Staying active to maintain balance and muscle strength

Right now the most important thing for the elderly to do is to make sure they aren’t vitamin D deficient. With very low vitamin D levels, our bodies just don’t use calcium efficiently.

Slowing muscle loss in the elderly

Loss of muscle mass, called sarcopenia, is a well-known consequence of aging. It’s the muscle equivalent of osteoporosis, or a loss of bone. The general theory of the development of sarcopenia is as follows:

  • With increasing age, loss of appetite occurs.

  • The decline in food intake exceeds the decline in physical activity, resulting in weight loss.

  • With weight loss, muscle mass is lost.

  • The loss of muscle mass leads to adverse health outcomes, like falls and reduced physical function, and a compromised immune system.

  • Muscle quality and function decline as well.

Vitamin D is needed to keep blood calcium levels normal, and this is essential for the contraction of muscles. So the more vitamin D you have, the more likely you are to have strong muscles. Many epidemiological studies have shown that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with poor muscle performance. Muscle tissue has also been found to have receptors for vitamin D.

Improving seniors' memory and thinking

Although some studies confirm a link between the loss of memory and thinking functions and very low vitamin D status, other studies don’t confirm the relationship, especially when they look at vitamin D levels that are closer to normal. In addition, it isn't known whether giving more vitamin D will restore cognitive function in these patients after they’ve lost it. It also isn’t known how high the level of vitamin D must be for optimum mental performance.

If you’re among the elderly with 70 years behind you, make sure you get your daily intake of vitamin D. In addition, keep doing activities that challenge your mind. Those mental challenges seem to help.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Alan L. Rubin, MD has been a physician in private practice for more than 30 years. He is the author of several bestselling health titles, including Diabetes For Dummies, High Blood Pressure For Dummies, and Thyroid For Dummies.

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