Exploring Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Seniors

As people age, they experience decreased appetite and activity levels. These circumstances cause aging adults to eat fewer calories, which, in turn, often results in reduced levels of essential nutrients. Whether your loved one lives on their own or in an independent or assisted living community, it is vital to be diligent about their nutritional intake. 

Certain dietary deficiencies are associated with cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and memory loss. It can be challenging for aging loved ones to obtain the right amount of vitamins and minerals, but a healthy diet is essential. Let’s take a look at the most common nutrient deficiencies in aging adults, so you can be prepared to help your loved one get the nourishment they need to live a healthy life.

Why Nutrient Deficiencies Occur

There are many reasons why nutrient deficiencies occur in aging adults. As the body ages, nutrients are harder to absorb. Appetite levels also decrease with age, so it’s common for aging adults to feel averse to eating large amounts of calories. Aging loved ones with memory loss may resist food or forget to eat.

If aging adults need to take medications, some side effects interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Vitamin-rich foods are often more expensive than unhealthy foods, so nutritional foods may be inaccessible if finances are an issue.

Additionally, nearly one in five adults over age 65 have lost all of their teeth. Missing teeth or wearing dentures can significantly affect nutrition because mineral-rich foods like fresh, raw vegetables and fruit can be challenging to chew. People with missing teeth or dentures often prefer softer foods that can lack much-needed nutrients.

Common Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

With all of these factors in mind, it’s easy to understand why so many aging adults experience nutrient deficiencies. Lack of nutrients is associated with diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, and more. To stay healthy, aging adults need to incorporate specific vitamins and minerals into their diet. The most common nutrient deficiencies in aging adults are:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the key vitamin that nourishes the immune system. It also strengthens bones, muscles, and nerves. Calcium is essential for keeping bones strong, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.

Vitamin D deficiencies are far more common in aging adults compared to younger people. Young people frequently absorb vitamin D from sun exposure and their kidneys. However, as people age, the skin doesn’t produce as much vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and the kidneys process less vitamin D. 

Since the body doesn’t naturally produce as much vitamin D in aging adults, your loved one needs to incorporate it into their diet. Foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Orange juice
  • Yogurt
  • Egg yolks

Signs of vitamin D deficiency are hard to notice until something serious like a bone fracture occurs. Doctors test vitamin D levels in aging adults regularly. Vitamin supplements can help increase vitamin D levels in addition to a personalized diet.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 makes the DNA in our cells. As people age, the body doesn’t absorb vitamin B12 as easily. Additionally, factors such as long-term use of heartburn medication, weight loss surgery, and a history of alcoholism can make it difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B12.

The most common condition that results from a vitamin B12 deficiency is pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia occurs when poor absorption of vitamin B12 stops red blood cells from delivering the proper amount of oxygen to the blood. Symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble walking
  • Pale or jaundiced skin
  • Tingling hands or feet
  • Blurry vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in memory and mood

A lack of vitamin B12 can be exposed through a blood test. If a doctor notices low levels of this vitamin, they may prescribe a supplement and encourage eating some of the following foods:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Liver
  • Many kinds of fish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Fortified breakfast cereal

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical role in bodily functions. It helps normalize blood pressure and blood sugar, strengthen bones, and keep the heart’s rhythm steady. Magnesium deficiency is commonly associated with type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. 

Diuretics taken for high blood pressure and other medications can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb magnesium. Low magnesium levels sometimes don’t show symptoms, but if symptoms do appear, they can include fatigue, migraine, and nausea. In severe cases, people may experience irregular heartbeats and seizures.

Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Spinach and other leafy greens
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Milk
  • Yogurt

Calcium 

Calcium is important for people of all ages, whether you’re seven or 77 years old. Calcium is most well-known for strengthening bones and teeth. Considering that vitamin D helps absorb calcium, if there is a lack of vitamin D, low calcium levels follow suit. 

If the body doesn’t receive enough calcium through food, it pulls calcium from bones and teeth. This extraction causes weakened bones and teeth, which can lead to osteoporosis or painful fractures. 

Calcium is found in many dairy products, green vegetables, and kinds of pasta. It also frequently gets added to juices, cereals, and tofu. 

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral and type of electrolyte that supports proper nerve and muscle function. The body uses potassium in almost every process. Long-term potassium deficits can lead to type 2 diabetes, stroke, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and poor bone health. Most Americans, including aging adults, do not get the recommended amount of potassium each day, which is at least 3,510 milligrams for adults.

It is essential to find the sweet spot of potassium levels because too much potassium can have adverse effects as well. Aging adults are encouraged to work with doctors and dieticians to find a meal plan that works. Potassium-rich diets include foods such as:

  • Bananas 
  • Grapefruit
  • Cooked spinach and broccoli
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Pinto beans

How to Combat Nutrient Deficits 

The best way to combat nutrient deficiencies in aging adults is for individuals and caregivers to create a robust diet plan. If your loved one does not live independently, there are some questions you should ask their assisted living community about meal plans. High-quality senior living communities will have chef-created menus with a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods.

Doctors and registered dieticians are the best people to consult for getting enough vitamins and minerals. If certain medications or conditions prevent your aging loved one from absorbing the necessary nutrients, a professional may prescribe supplements. 

Keep Loved Ones Healthy with Nutritional Food

Nutrient deficits are common among aging adults. However, there are ways to reduce their adverse effects. A balanced diet, supplements, and regular visits to the doctor will help your loved one maintain their health. 

If you’re interested in supporting your aging loved one by finding a high-quality senior living community with nutritional meals and on-staff medical professionals, contact New Perspective today. We are happy to provide tours of our caring, healthy communities.