While we all know sunscreen is a necessary step to the prevention of skin cancer, sometimes a little sunlight is also very necessary. After all, vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for us, but it’s challenging to get all the vitamin D required from the foods we eat. For seniors, it can be even more difficult because many of them spend most of their time indoors.
To make up for that shortfall, vitamin D supplements can make a big difference for older adults, particularly during winter, when sunshine is minimal and the cold makes it even more unlikely that older adults will spend much time outside.
Which older adults are most at risk for vitamin D deficiency?
It’s recommended that all adults over 65 get at least 800 milligrams of vitamin D per day, but some older adults are more at risk of a vitamin D deficiency. Their doctors should monitor and test them to determine if they need a more significant supplement to get their vitamin D levels over 25, the minimum number recommended by the Endocrine Society.
Certain individuals are more at risk for a vitamin D deficiency:
- Darker-skinned individuals
- Those with skin problems (eczema, psoriasis, etc.)
- People who are indoors most of the time
- Obese individuals (those with a BMI of 30 or above)
- Those with serious digestive issues or malabsorption
- People with kidney problems
- People who take certain medications
What are the signs of a vitamin D deficiency?
Unfortunately, the signs of a vitamin D deficiency are often the same as common problems experienced by many older adults. If you notice these problems becoming more and more frequent or severe, however, take your loved one to the doctor for a complete checkup—and be sure to get their vitamin D levels checked.
Lack of vitamin D can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and not enough vitamin D can affect serotonin levels in the brain.
Dementia and memory loss
Lack of vitamin D can cause a decline in cognitive abilities, which may lead to dementia.
You may attribute fatigue and lack of energy to your loved one getting older, but a lack of vitamin D may be contributing to the problem.
If the senior in your life is having constant stomach problems no matter what they eat, a lack of vitamin D could be contributing to this issue. Unfortunately, vitamin D may not be absorbed properly if there are intestinal problems, which can be a challenge to correct.
Weak muscles or frequent falls
If your loved one is complaining of a general heaviness in the lower half of their body or is finding it more and more challenging to stand up or climb stairs, it may be that a lack of vitamin D is contributing to muscle weakness.
Denise Houston, PhD, RD, of the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University, told Today’s Geriatric Medicine, “Vitamin D regulates calcium transport into muscle cells, which is necessary for muscle contraction.”
Houston went on to say, “Vitamin D also plays a role in regulating protein synthesis within muscle cells, which is necessary for building and repairing muscle fibers. Observational studies show that individuals with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have worse physical function, for example, slower gait and worse physical performance and balance, as well as lower strength.”
What should you be concerned about regarding taking vitamin D?
When taken correctly and at the proper dosage, vitamin D shouldn’t have any adverse effects. However, if vitamin D is taken in excess, it can cause hypercalcemia, which is an excess of calcium in the bloodstream. Symptoms of this are:
- Vomiting or stomach distress
- Dizziness or confusion
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
Other possible problems when vitamin D is taken in excess include bone loss and kidney failure. However, these are rare problems and are usually the result of extremely high doses of vitamin D, which, if your older adult’s intake is monitored, should not be a concern.
Encourage your loved one to get out for 15 or so minutes a day to get a good dose of nature’s best source of vitamin D—a bit of sunshine. Even during the cold winter months, a little time outside on a sunny day will warm the heart and do good things for their vitamin D levels—and yours, too.