By Paul Cain, Ph.D. and Donna Holm, CPA
Aging brings about symptoms one may never have experienced in his or her younger years: fatigue, general muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, poor concentration, restless sleep – the list goes on. These symptoms may be the result of normal wear and tear on the body over the years. They are also symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, a potentially serious condition that has gotten more attention over the years, especially in the senior population. It is estimated that more than 40% of seniors do not have enough vitamin D in their systems.
Vitamin D was once believed to only help strengthen bones and teeth. However, recent advances in science show that vitamin D plays an important role in the proper functioning of the body and can help prevent many diseases and conditions. Vitamin D is found in small amounts of food, such as fatty fish and fortified dairy products, juices and cereals. However, 80-90 percent of vitamin D is obtained by exposure to sunlight.
“Researchers have found several factors that put seniors at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency than other age groups,” says Donna Holm of Comfort Keepers in West Palm Beach. Seniors who are either unable or do not otherwise leave their homes do not receive the benefits of the sun’s rays. Active seniors must bear in mind the changes in the skin due to aging decrease the skin’s ability to synthesize sunlight into vitamin D. Also, kidney function decreases with age, which inhibits the body’s ability to properly process the vitamin.
Studies have found vitamin D deficiency may contribute to osteoporosis, muscle weakness, hip fractures, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and poor general health. The New England Journal of Medicine recently studied vitamin D and how it prevents fractures in seniors. While the recommended dosage of vitamin D varies from person to person, the study showed that it takes a daily dose of at least 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D to consistently prevent broken bones. This dosage reduced the risk of hip fractures by 30 percent and other breaks by 14 percent. The study also demonstrated that too much calcium, more than 1,000 mg per day, may dilute vitamin D’s benefits to bones.
The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are often subtle and a doctor should always be consulted before treatment is considered. The following is a list of symptoms that seniors with this deficiency may experience:
• General muscle pain and weakness
• Muscle cramps
• Joint pain
• Chronic pain
• Weight gain
• High blood pressure
• Restless sleep
• Poor concentration
• Bladder problems
• Constipation or diarrhea
“Those caring for seniors who notice these symptoms should advise a trip to the doctor,” says Dr. Cain of Comfort Keepers in Jupiter, Florida.
The following tips can help seniors increase vitamin D intake. Always ensure the senior you care for consults a health care provider before considering any of these suggestions:
• Researchers suggest 10 minutes of uncovered sun exposure three times a week, without the use of sunscreen.
• Supplements, such as a multivitamin, may help if approved by a physician.
• Help the senior in your life choose foods that are high in vitamin D such as cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
• Help the senior find foods fortified with vitamin D. These foods include milk, breakfast cereals, and juice drinks. While the daily diet may not provide the daily amount of vitamin D required, studies show that these foods can increase vitamin D levels in the body.
About Comfort Keepers
With over 650 independently owned and operated locations, Comfort Keepers is a leader in in-home senior care to promote independent living. Services include companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, incidental transportation, laundry, recreational activities, personal care and technology products. Call our local office or visit our website at www.comfortkeepers.com; enter your zip code to locate the office near you.
561.694.1950 – Jupiter/PBG
561.833.7355 – West Palm Beach