Most people get a good amount of the essential vitamins humans need in order to survive from the foods we eat and/or supplements from a hospital supply store; these include vitamins A, C, D, E, K, choline, and B complex – along with 15 minerals. Fruits, proteins, vegetables, healthy oils, whole grains, and dairy provide these vitamins for the average person.

But what about the not-so-average person?

After the age of 55 or 60, the body’s ability to absorb some vitamins from foods gradually declines. There are other issues that can contribute to or exacerbate vitamin deficiencies in addition to aging; these can include:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Illness
  • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Some medications
  • Forgetting to eat
  • Depression
  • Poor food choices

Symptoms of Vitamin Deficiency in Seniors

Naturally, one of the biggest questions people have when it comes to vitamin deficiency is, “How can I tell if my loved one is lacking important vitamins and minerals?”

Unfortunately, you can’t. There is no way to know for certain without lab work and blood tests.

While there are symptoms of a vitamin deficiency, they often resemble symptoms of other issues and of aging in general. The signs can be subtle or dramatic, and even seem unrelated. Some serious symptoms of vitamin deficiency can be memory loss, pain, and a decline in overall cognitive function. Unfortunately for seniors, these are all too often falsely attributed to an already-diagnosed condition or to normal aging.

Consequences of Vitamin Deficiency

When people suffer from a deficiency in nutrients for too long, there can be serious consequences, especially for the aging adult. For example, a severe vitamin B12 deficit can mimic dementia; too little vitamin D can raise the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cause cognitive impairment; a deficiency in vitamin C and folate (vitamin B9) can cause anemia, resulting in muscle weakness, personality changes, confusion, unsteady movements, and weight loss.

In addition, sometimes just one change in the body can interfere with the body’s ability to extract and absorb vitamins, triggering symptoms that can easily lead to a misdiagnosis. An example of this can be seen with vitamin B12. Up to 30% of Americans over the age of 50 don’t produce enough stomach acid. Although this may not sound like a problem to people who suffer from chronic heartburn, it can become a significant cause of various maladies. Stomach acid is important in the absorption of vitamin B12 – this vitamin is vital to help produce red blood cells and DNA, and it helps maintain nerves, as well. What are the symptoms of not ingesting enough vitamin B12?

  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory loss
  • Prickly feet
  • Paranoia and agitation
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Confusion
  • Psychosis
  • Unsteady gait
  • Incontinence

What You Need to Know

Always keep in mind that the most effective way to get vitamins is through food, as opposed to supplements. People shouldn’t take supplements without consulting their doctors first, because some supplements can interfere with prescribed medications. In addition, too much of a good thing can be bad; an overabundance of certain vitamins can introduce new risks to the body.

Know the verbiage on nutrition labels of vitamin supplements. It’s important to know the difference between the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and the daily value (DV). The RDA is the recommended daily intake of nutrients needed to keep most people healthy. The DV is the percentage of necessary nutrients that a single serving provides.

Know Your Vitamins

Vitamin A protects the heart, lungs, kidneys, and vision. It may also lower the risk of some cancers. Good sources include fruits and colorful vegetables, diary, fish, and meat.

Vitamin B includes eight different vitamins and are essential for the heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and muscles. They also support digestion, metabolism, and the nervous system. You can find them in beef, poultry, pork, beans, milk, nuts, oranges, and whole grains.

Vitamin C supports the immune system and calcium absorption to help maintain teeth, bones, and gums. It also lets the body absorb iron. Vitamin C is found in dark, leafy greens, strawberries, oranges, peas, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and baked potatoes.

Vitamin D strengthens the immune system and may lower blood sugar levels and cancer risk. It also maintains phosphate and calcium levels in the blood. Direct sunlight, eggs, oily fish, cheese, and fortified cereals are good sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and helps prevent blood clots. It also helps prevent agents from damaging the brain, which is what happens during Alzheimer’s disease. Good sources include almonds, sunflower oils, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds.

Vitamin K is essential for bone health and for good blood clotting ability. One sign of a deficiency is bruising. You can find vitamin K in greens, turnips, mustard greens, parsley, and broccoli.

When you have a good understanding of what essential nutrients do, you can help your loved one adjust meals appropriately to take in more of the vitamins they need.

*This article is not intended to provide medical advice and should not be used as such; these are guidelines on general information only. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may suffer from vitamin deficiencies, seek medical advice from a physician.