When I say there is no ‘D’ in dementia, it is not that I am Deficient in spelling. Medical research has been accumulating that people with low levels of vitamin D in their bloodstreams are more likely to experience cognitive decline and even develop Alzheimer’s Disease. When I say cognitive issues, it is not all aspects of brain function. The declines associated with vitamin D deficiency are focused on episodic memory loss and deterioration of executive function.
Researchers from University of California, Davis and Rutgers University studied 382 adults whose average age was 75.5 years old. These adults received cognitive assessments which categorized them as having dementia (17.5%), having mild cognitive impairment (32.7%) or as cognitively normal (49.5%). Vitamin D levels were lowest for those diagnosed with dementia, but there was only very nominal difference in vitamin D levels for those who were mildly impaired and those who were classified as cognitively normal.
All of these adults were studied for nearly five years and then assessed again. During that time the magnitudes of decline in episodic memory and executive function were greater in adults who had been diagnosed as vitamin D deficient or vitamin D-insufficient. The investigators found that regardless of their baseline cognitive assessment, their ethnicity or a range of other risk factors, those who had been vitamin D deficient at the beginning of the five year period were at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Scientists continue to study the association between vitamin D levels and dementia. While there are no studies that suggest taking vitamin D supplements can prevent Alzheimer’s, doctors in practice are not waiting. They are prescribing D for their older patients, especially those who are already at low blood levels of the vitamin. We who live in northern regions should be particularly on top of getting enough sun to activate our natural vitamin D, consuming more dairy products and green leafy vegetables and augmenting our diets with vitamin supplements.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Professional and a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.