Vitamin D is something everyone needs but how important are Vitamin D supplements? It contributes to bone and muscle health, helping the body repair and grow new material as needed. (There is also some research that suggests that vitamin D can lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.) Because it helps your body absorb important nutrients through food, especially calcium, it has become increasingly popular for older people to take as an oral supplement. For seniors especially, having strong bones and muscles means more safety, activity, and health. If you want more information about why a senior in your care might need vitamin D supplements, here are three ways these supplements might improve their life.
Vitamin D supplements reason #1: For safety
Healthy, strong bones and muscles–especially for seniors who are at risk for weaker bones and muscles, such as seniors with restricted mobility or low bone density–help seniors stay safe. Someone with strong bones, for example, is less likely to break or fracture them in a fall or other accident. Strong muscles can prevent a fall in the first place by allowing seniors to catch themselves or preventing muscle fatigue that could result in tripping. It also means that seniors can go about their days with more strength, leading to more physical and social activity.
Vitamin D supplements reason #2: Activity
Seniors who engage their bodies and minds in exercise each day (or most days) are less likely to experience depression, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness. For seniors looking to make these activities safer or more frequent, vitamin D can help strengthen bones and muscles and allow them to participate in more activities, or participate more vigorously. Someone who normally gets tired after a walk to the bathroom may want to consider ways to get the energy to walk around the block, breathing in fresh air and speaking with neighbors. A person looking to prevent fall-related injuries, perhaps after a scare or a previous fall, might want to strengthen their bones to stave off life-threatening injuries.
Vitamin D supplements reason #3: Overall health
Seniors who engage in safe, active living are less likely to need assistance with frequent activities of daily living. Although vitamin D does not usually eliminate the need for caregivers, it can make a senior stronger and more independent, or much less likely to experience injury during activities a caregiver could help with. Seniors who can manage their own affairs and activities for longer have more dignity and are less likely to become depressed or frustrated since they can manage their care more often.
It is possible to get sufficient vitamin D without taking supplements. Your body creates vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. However, especially for seniors, the risk of skin cancer and painful sunburns, in addition to limited mobility, may restrict access to sunlight. If you want to help your senior get vitamin D naturally, discuss with them and their doctor safe ways to get them into the sunshine. The Mayo Clinic recommends various dosages of vitamin D depending on the problem you would like to treat or prevent, so some seniors may require more or less vitamin D in their activities or supplements. Just a few minutes a day of sunbathing, walking in the sunlight, or bathing in a pool can be enough to produce the necessary amount of vitamin D for the day, but that varies depending on each person’s situation.
A word of caution
Although vitamin D is healthy and necessary, there is a limit to how much vitamin D a person can or should have. Too much vitamin D can lead to frequent upper respiratory infections, according to a study published in JAMA in 2016. Researchers in Zurich found that vitamin D has a “therapeutic zone” in which it promotes physical health, but too much or too little can cause sickness or even death. To establish the right amount of vitamin D for your senior, consult with their physician, record their health and activity levels before, during, and after any dosage changes, and get them tested regularly for signs of too much or too little vitamin D.
Bischoff-ferrari, Heike A., Bess Dawson-Hughes, E. John Orav, et al. Monthly High-Dose Vitamin D Treatment for the Prevention of Functional Decline. JAMA Internal Medicine 2016; 176(2): 175-183. Available at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2478897. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
Mayo Clinic. Vitamin D Dosing. MayoClinic.org. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-d/dosing/HRB-20060400. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
Prescott, Jeff. The Best Vitamins and Minerals for Seniors. U.S. News & World Report, May 25, 2013. Available at http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2013/05/25/the-best-vitamins-and-minerals-for-seniors. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
Scudellari, Megan. Seeking the “just right” dosage of vitamin D for seniors. Boston Globe, January 11, 2016. Available at https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2016/01/11/seeking-just-right-dosage-vitamin-for-seniors/MrFQN6apMj4OZ60Pk100WM/story.html. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
Welch, Ashley. High doses of vitamin D may hurt seniors instead of help. CBS News, January 5, 2016. Available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/high-doses-of-vitamin-d-may-hurt-seniors-instead-of-help/. Retrieved April 12, 2017.