Almost everyone who is beyond the age of 55 has heard of the infamous “senior moment.”
For those unfamiliar with this term, it is a humorous way of explaining why we seem to experience more and more episodes of forgetfulness as we age. But there is really a deeper meaning to this and it has to do with the connection between vitamin D and something called “cognitive impairment.”
From childhood we have always been told that healthy bodies require certain vitamins and other nutrients, which is the basic rationale behind recommended servings of dairy and fish, for example, which are high in vitamin D. And if we do not feel we are ingesting the right combination of foods provide us with these nutrient building blocks, we can take dietary supplements, such as a daily vitamin.
What are the consequences to our neurological processes, such as memory, if we do not take in enough of the required nutrients?
What many of us don’t realize is that Vitamin D plays a critical role in how the brain processes information, so any deficiency can have a negative impact on the cellular processes within the brain itself.
The level of vitamin D can be checked with a standard blood test. There is a growing body of evidence that low vitamin D levels increase the odds of “cognitive,” or intellectual thinking and reasoning. But if this vitamin is so readily available, why would there be low levels in the blood anyway?
“Vitamin D comes from three main sources – exposure to sunlight, foods such as oily fish, and foods that are fortified with vitamin D (such as milk, cereals, and soya drinks). One problem faced by older people is that the capacity of the skin to absorb Vitamin D from sunlight decreases as the body ages, so they are more reliant on obtaining Vitamin D from other sources.”
Lack of this nutrient (or vitamin D insufficiency) can lead to a decrease in bone strength, anemia, an increased tendency to develop infection and poor wound healing. In addition, low levels can induce a loss of the ability to store and retrieve information from short-term memory, reasoning and can interfere with easily learning new information. This condition is called “cognitive impairment” and research in the last 10 years has uncovered a strong connection between low levels of vitamin D and memory loss.
How important is a healthy diet?
It is not a far stretch to say that many older adults do not eat a healthy diet each day. Because of this, slight vitamin deficiencies are very common among seniors, but even more so among the frail and institutionalized elderly. Even more crucial is understanding that under nutrition in the elderly is often an integral part of a general decline in health and well-being. But few of us have given much thought or credence to the fact that a natural chemical found in food and in sunlight could provide a much-needed boost to our memory.
“In the U. S., severe vitamin D deficiency is rare; however, most Americans do not achieve adequate vitamin D levels from sources that include sunlight, diet, and supplements. Approximately 90% of adults between the ages of 51 and 70 do not get enough vitamin D from their diet.”
Age-associated cognitive impairment
Age-associated cognitive impairment reveals itself in variety of ways, including memory loss, senility, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is significant because research has provided evidence that controlling the level of vitamin D can help decrease these symptoms.
“Thousands of published studies have been evaluated substantiating that a decline of cognitive function can be controlled. Some of these studies demonstrate that prevention will help maintain optimal brain function, while others show measurable benefit in reversing cognitive impairment caused by normal aging or by a specific disease of aging, such as stroke.”
In 2009, a study was published that unveiled the link between vitamin D and impaired cognition, finding that as levels of vitamin D went down, levels of cognitive impairment went up:
“Researchers from the Peninsula Medical School, the University of Cambridge and the University of Michigan, have for the first time identified a relationship between Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”, and cognitive impairment in a large-scale study of older people. The importance of these findings lies in the connection between cognitive function and dementia: people who have impaired cognitive function are more likely to develop dementia.“
So now the importance of sustaining vitamin D levels in our bodies becomes crucial not only to daily health, but to prevent or stave off conditions related to dementia. While no studies have yet been published to establish that this correlation as a proven, scientific fact, nonetheless we should take notice.
Therapeutic benefits of vitamin D
The explosion of dementia-related conditions world-wide should be telling us that this connection needs to be taken seriously by all adults. “The possible therapeutic benefits of vitamin D have attracted considerable interest as over 1 billion people worldwide are thought to have insufficient “D” levels and these levels can be increased using inexpensive and well tolerated dietary supplements.” This is especially true for those seniors who have poor dietary habits or reside in controlled environments, such as memory care units.
So as you enjoy the sun on your face, drink a glass of milk, eat your favorite fish or even pop a vitamin supplement, you are doing more than just maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You may well be on the way to reducing your risk of “cognitive impairment” or dementia!
Dr. Jill Bjerke
Mild cognitive impairment as related to more than forgetfulness
Causes of deficiencies
Cognition, Aging & Nutrient Protocols
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Dr. Jill Bjerke
Dr. Jill Bjerke, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, is a published, international author who recently accepted a gubernatorial appointment as Commissioner to the Iowa Department on Aging. Her background as a health care physician, business executive and community leader has shaped the way downsizing and aging in place is perceived. She is a thought leader, entrepreneur and change agent known for encouraging solution seeking and positive results.
Dr. Bjerke is the founder and president of Cut the Clutter Company, LLC and its division, Aging in Place with Grace. Her personal life and business reflect the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Click here to view Dr.Jill Bjerke's website: AgingInPlaceWithGrace.com
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