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Vitamin D Deficiency Can Lead to Depression, Even Death in Seniors

One study found that older adults with low blood levels of vitamin D and high blood levels of a hormone secreted by the parathyroid glands may have a higher risk of depression.
One study found that older adults with low blood levels of vitamin D and high blood levels of a hormone secreted by the parathyroid glands may have a higher risk of depression.

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April 4, 2011

Depression can be a serious disease in older adults and the causes are often varied. Surprisingly simple solutions sometimes help counteract depression such as vitamin supplementation, according to research, and companionship. It's always important to first have a doctor's assessment to determine the causes of depression and the best course of action.

Q. I've noticed that my 79-year-old dad, who has been widowed for nine years, seems depressed lately. He's always had lots of friends and a great social life. I just can't explain this. Can you?

Please encourage your father to get a physical. There are many reasons why he might be experiencing depression including illness or medication imbalance. But only his doctor will know for sure.

One study found that older adults with low blood levels of vitamin D and high blood levels of a hormone secreted by the parathyroid glands may have a higher risk of depression.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods and is also produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D, and it is also available as a dietary supplement.

Symptoms of depression in about 13 percent of older individuals have been linked to vitamin D deficiency, according to an issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. Blood vitamin D levels were 14 percent lower in individuals with major and minor depression compared with non-depressed participants, according to the study.

The findings may be important because both low blood vitamin D levels and high parathyroid hormone levels can be treated with higher dietary intake of vitamin D or calcium and increased sunlight exposure.

Vitamin D deficiency can be even more serious. Another study suggests a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and risk of death. The research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine says a lack of the sun vitamin puts you at higher risk of death from all causes. This follows a study of older people that reached the same conclusion.

Several lines of evidence support vitamin D's role in death risk, including the fact that cardiovascular events are more common in the winter, when vitamin D levels are lower, and that cancer survival is better if the disease is diagnosed in the summer when levels are higher.

According to the study, those in the group with the lowest level of the vitamin had a 26 percent increased rate of death from any cause compared with those in the group with the highest vitamin D levels.

The authors of this report acknowledge that several studies have found that vitamin D deficiency contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer and death. A recent consensus panel estimated that about 50 to 60 percent of older individuals in North America and the rest of the world do not have satisfactory vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D appears to have some preventative benefits as well, according to research. An interesting study from the University of Warwick Medical School found that middle-aged and older adults with high levels of vitamin D could reduce their chances of developing heart disease or diabetes by a whopping 43 percent.

Researchers looked at 28 studies including 99,745 participants across a variety of ethnic groups including men and women. These studies revealed a significant association between high levels of vitamin D and a decreased risk of developing the three disorders:

  • Cardiovascular Disease (33 percent compared to low levels of vitamin D)
  • Type 2 diabetes (55 percent reduction)
  • Metabolic Syndrome (51 percent reduction)

The literature review, published in the journal Maturitas, was led by Johanna Parker and Dr Oscar Franco, Assistant Professor in Public Health at Warwick Medical School.

Since your father is widowed, perhaps he is at a point in his life when he might benefit from a little extra help around the house. Or a friend to accompany him to doctor's appointments or social events might provide a boost as well. How about someone to help him with groceries, errands and other transportation needs? Or perhaps he would like a companion who can assist with medication reminders?

He can have all of that support with a CAREGiverSM from Home Instead Senior Care®. CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured, and may be just what your dad needs to help him through this difficult time. CAREGivers also provide peace of mind for family members when they can't always be there to help their loved ones. A second set of eyes could be just what you need as well to help put your mind at ease about your father.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Posted by Ann Ford

    25 yrs ago I was diagnosed with pernicous anemia and initally was hospitalized receiving 6 units of blood. Then was started on a B12 injections treatment. Every day then every other then once a week then eventually once a month for 13 yrs. Then my Dr stopped seeing pts and I transferred to another interanal Dr in the same group. He decided I did not need the B12. I Had Breast cancer and went thru surgery, Chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Now 12 yrs later I am having the symptoms that lead to my inital blood transfusions and beginning b12 therapy. And also another new Dr. The second Dr. quit his practice also. I trusted him and took his word that I did not have true pernicious anemia. But now I am going thru testing and am very tired, depressed, numb in hands and lower legs. If you have symptoms of B12 defiecency insist on the tests being run. I have slowly become very low functioning , retiring early from my job due to inability to cope with my faced paced postion; Also have had several emotional traumas several people have passed away culminating with most recently the death of my 23 yr old grandson, Trying to come back but am having the biggest fight of my life;; even harder that the Breast Cancer fight. Dont take this disease lightly.


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