Nobody wants to watch their elderly loved one get dementia. Dementia, best recognized by a decline in cognitive abilities, can eventually rob an elderly person of his or her independence. At best it can be a nuisance, making life challenging for both the elderly person it afflicts as well as his or her caregivers; at worst, it can be dangerous and even fatal, as those suffering from dementia may wander away and get into accidents.
Dementia is relatively rare among those under the age of 75; however, as an elderly person continues to grow older, the risk for developing dementia increases exponentially: those between the ages of 75 and 84 have a 19% chance of developing it, while those over the age of 85 have a nearly 1 in 2 chance of falling prey to the disease.
Fortunately, studies have shown that there is some hope for lowering the risk that your loved one will develop dementia. There is a strong correlation between a lack of Vitamin D and dementia: 70% to 90% of elderly people with dementia have low Vitamin D levels as well; in contrast, only 50% of the elderly who are not suffering from dementia have low levels of the vitamin. This suggests that a deficiency in Vitamin D will--at the very least--contribute to your loved one's risk of developing the disease.
Boosting Vitamin D
So what can you do to ensure that your loved one maintains adequate levels of Vitamin D? For one thing, you can increase his or her exposure to sunlight. The body manufactures Vitamin D as a result of sunlight exposure, so giving your loved one more sun time will help boost his or her Vitamin D levels.
A word of caution, however: as you no doubt know, excessive exposure to sunlight can carry with it a significant risk of damaging the skin. This damage can range from sunburn and premature wrinkling all the way to skin cancer. So, while you may wish to increase your loved one's exposure to sunlight, do so in a sensible manner, and avoid doing so during the time of the day when the sunlight is at its strongest, typically between 11 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
In addition, there are numerous supplements available which can be an easy way to increase Vitamin D while at the same time eschewing the somewhat risky proposition of increasing exposure to sunlight. These supplements are generally available in pill form, although some manufacturers make it available as a liquid to be mixed into smoothies or other foods.
Eating certain types of foods can help increase Vitamin D as well. Eggs, liver, and several types of fish contain significant amounts of Vitamin D. A full exploration of the various foods and their impact on Vitamin D is beyond the scope of this article; however, a quick Internet search for "foods to boost Vitamin D" or some similar search string will yield numerous results.
Vitamin D Toxicity
At the same time that you are increasing your loved one's levels of Vitamin D you should be aware that you can have too much of a good thing. Vitamin D toxicity, while rare, does sometimes occur in situations where someone is taking too many supplements (the good news is that Vitamin D toxicity is not caused by diet or sunlight, as the body will regulate the amount of the vitamin that it produces).
Vitamin D toxicity can cause elevated calcium levels in the blood, which in turn can lead to kidney problems. So be sure to follow the doctor's directions when providing Vitamin D supplements to your elderly loved one.
Dementia is a terrible disease which robs people of their independence and steals away our loved ones. One way to minimize the risk of developing dementia is to increase Vitamin D intake. This can be done through diet, sunlight, and sensible supplement use.
By taking steps to increase Vitamin D, you can help your loved one fight the ravages of dementia.
Cannell, John. (September 25, 2015). Closer Look: Low Vitamin D Status May Increase Risk of Dementia. Vitamin D. Council. Available online at http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/blog/closer-look-low-vitamin-d-status-may-increase-risk-of-dementia-09-2015/#.
Zeratsky, Catherine. What is vitamin D toxicity, and should I worry about it since I take supplements? Healthy Lifestyle. Nutrition and healthy eating. Mayo Clinic. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/vitamin-d-toxicity/faq-20058108.