Older people should definitely talk about vitamins and minerals with their doctors to make sure that they are maintaining adequate levels of these nutrients. As we age, things change in our bodies, and changes in diet or in the absorption of the foods we eat can have a lasting effect on us. Nutrient levels can also be impacted by some medications, and we tend to take more medications as we age, so these conversations with our health providers should occur whenever a change is made in our care, too.
For example, there has long been an understanding that vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with cognitive decline. It’s also thought that the effects of this particular deficiency, left untreated, may be irreversible. Fortunately, a simple blood test can determine if a person is deficient in vitamin B12. Those with B12 deficiency may also have folic acid deficiency, which can cause depression and other neuropsychiatric issues (http://1.usa.gov/oUSzHw).
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to daytime sleepiness, susceptibility to pneumonia, and to osteopenia and osteoporosis (vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium). It’s estimated that more than 90 percent of older Americans have a vitamin D deficiency. A recent study, published in July in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolisms, suggests that among the study participants, aged 65 to 88, those with the lowest vitamin D levels were 1.7 times as likely to have at least one physical limitation, such as difficulty climbing stairs, as those with the highest vitamin D levels.
Potassium helps maintain the fluid balance in the body. It’s also helpful in maintaining the normal functioning of muscles. If you feel weak, have spasms, muscle cramps or twitching, you might want to eat some raisins, bananas, or oranges! Severe potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia and can produce various symptoms, even muscle paralysis (http://bit.ly/XdvcYQ).
One way to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies is to eat a balanced diet. Processed foods, in addition to being more expensive, are often heavy on salt and sugar, and light on leafy greens. Sticking to the outside aisles of the supermarket and going more often, if you can, so that your foods are fresher, goes a long way toward insuring that you get the full benefit of those fruits and vegetables. Whole grain breads and cereals meet the need for nutrients such as niacin and folic acid. Citrus fruits help with vitamin C and potassium (especially orange juice). Oysters are high in vitamin B12, zinc, and iron (but also in cholesterol).
If your physician finds that you are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, take his or her advice seriously when it comes to replenishment. These substances are the building blocks of a healthy body, at any age, but especially as we age. For more information on nutrients that are especially valuable to older adults, visit WebMD’s section on healthy aging and nutrition: http://bit.ly/16ltZrn.
If you want healthy eating tips based upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, visit the Choose My Plate website at http://1.usa.gov/1343fqD.
If you have difficulty preparing healthy meals for yourself, and think you might wish to receive Meals on Wheels, or you’d like to share a meal with others at one of our neighborhood dining rooms, call SeniorCare for information at 978-281-1750 or see the Meals section of its site at http://bit.ly/15FxXoF.
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.