10 Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Older Adults | Everdays

10 Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Older Adults

Nutritional deficiencies in older adults can lead to a variety of health issues—from heart disease to anemia. These nutritional deficiencies tend to happen for numerous reasons. With age, the number of calories we need begins to decline. This means that every calorie consumed must be nutritious in order to get an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals.


Today, we’re sharing our favorite tips to help you combat nutritional deficiencies as an older adult—so you can live a long, healthy life with your loved ones.

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Why Are Older Adults at Increased Risk for Nutritional Deficiencies?

Older adults are at an increased risk for nutritional deficiencies for several reasons, including:

  • Poor diet and nutritional intake. One common process of aging is a change in our caloric needs, which is often accompanied by a loss of appetite. More than 60% of people aged 65-80 years and 80% of people aged above 80 years have a reduced sense of taste. As our appetite declines, we tend to eat less—and it becomes increasingly important for the food we ate to be filled with all the nutrients we need.
  • Financial challenges. Eating a balanced and healthy lifestyle can be challenging if you’re struggling financially. If you don’t have the financial means to purchase nutritious, fresh foods, you may be limited in the healthy options available.
  • Medication side effects. If you’re taking certain medications for a specific condition, you may experience side effects. This can range from decreased appetite to a decrease in your body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients. If you’re worried that your medication is severely impairing your nutrition, talk with your primary care physician.
  • Physiological changes. Many older adults may experience vitamin or nutritional deficiencies due to physiological changes, such as depression, forgetfulness, or social isolation.
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Common Symptoms and Side Effects of Older Adult Nutrient Deficiencies

If you believe you’re suffering from some of the common nutritional deficiencies in older adults, you may experience a wide variety of symptoms—from fatigue and memory loss to gastrointestinal issues and lower bone density. Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies in older adults can take anywhere from months to years to develop and manifest.


One universal symptom of nutritional deficiencies is a loss in quality of life, often due to aches, pains, mood changes, or severe health issues, which can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney or Liver issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sarcopenia
  • Type II Diabetes
  • Anemia

If you notice yourself feeling foggy, off-balance, confused, or forgetful, these can be meaningful indicators of cognitive impairments. If you notice that you’re increasingly sick—or slow to heal when you have a wound, for example—those symptoms can also be a signal that your body doesn’t have the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it needs to function properly.


Start a conversation with your general practitioner immediately if you’re concerned about potential nutrition deficiencies. They’ll be able to run bloodwork and other tests to determine vitamin and mineral deficiencies in your body and prescribe proper treatment.

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The 10 Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Older Adults

To function at optimal levels, our bodies require a large assortment of vitamins and minerals. For older adults, vitamin deficiencies are particularly impactful. There are 10 common nutritional deficiencies that can occur and have a noticeable impact on your overall health and mood.


Please note that this list is not exhaustive. Before you opt to include new supplements or diet changes to your daily routine, discuss it with your primary care physician first—so you can gain a clearer picture of your health and create a strategic plan.


Calcium

One of the most common nutritional deficiencies in older adults is calcium—and without enough calcium, seniors may suffer from bone loss, osteoporosis, or a higher risk of falling and hurting themselves.


Why It Matters

Calcium is an essential nutrient for overall bone health, maintaining stable blood pressure, and minimizing kidney stones. If you’re not getting enough calcium—either through your diet or with the support of a supplement—you might be at risk for bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis or a higher fall risk.


Calcium deficiencies can stem from diet and medications. Some medications in particular act as antinutrients, which prevent your body from fully absorbing or using the calcium you consume. If you’re worried that your medications or your diet may be impacting your calcium absorption, avoid foods high in sodium, phytates, oxalates, and tannins.


If you’re considering incorporating calcium and/or increasing your vitamin D3 intake to help your body naturally absorb calcium, be aware that you can have an excess of calcium. When your calcium levels are too high, you can experience:

  • Needing to urinate more frequently
  • Kidney stones
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting or intense nausea
  • Unexplained fatigue

Prevalence

While anyone can be calcium-deficient, studies find that over 70% of the elderly fail to meet the standard calcium intake for seniors. In particular, elderly women are at a higher risk of bone loss.


When women enter menopause, it’s a good time to resurface a conversation with your doctor about your overall health—and potentially begin supplementing to ensure you’re meeting the daily recommended calcium requirements for seniors to keep your bones healthy and strong.

How to Increase Calcium For Seniors

One of the best ways to increase calcium intake for seniors is to make adjustments to your diet. By incorporating foods rich in calcium, your chances of having an excess of calcium are much lower—and you’ll be much less likely to experience any negative symptoms by supplementing with ingredients.


Keep in mind that your body isn’t able to absorb calcium without the support of vitamin D3. So if you’re calcium-deficient, you’ll need sun exposure or an added vitamin D supplement to ensure that your body is able to process and absorb calcium.


Here’s a list of foods you can incorporate into your diet to boost your calcium intake.

  • Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Soybeans
  • Green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, or collard greens
  • Calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice or breakfast cereal
  • Fruit, including figs, papayas, and oranges

Magnesium

Magnesium is essential for many bodily functions, including maintaining blood sugar and pressure, making protein, building bones, supporting your DNA, and regulating muscle and nerve function.


Why It Matters

Magnesium is required to maintain most of the critical functions of the body. However, it can be challenging to diagnose a magnesium deficiency because they often present as asymptomatic.


When your magnesium levels are low for too long, it can lead to a chronic deficiency and increase your chances of developing heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and an unbalanced or disrupted endocrine system.


Getting too much magnesium can occur with a supplement, so keep an eye out for any related symptoms, such as:

  • Cramping in your abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

For most seniors, the best option is to meet the magnesium requirements for seniors is through dietary changes in place of supplements. Keep in mind that magnesium can impact the way your body interacts with some antibiotics or other medicines—so be sure to check with your doctor before any changes to your supplement or medication routine.


Prevalence

Elderly people are at a higher risk for nutritional deficiencies—and magnesium deficiencies are not uncommon for many seniors. Older adults tend to consume fewer magnesium-rich foods and their bodies may absorb less of the mineral. Additionally, men older than 70 are found to be the most likely to have low intakes of magnesium.

How to Increase Magnesium for Seniors

Luckily, it’s easy to increase magnesium through your diet. Naturally-produced magnesium is very simple for the body to absorb—and our bodies will naturally take what it needs and discard the extra. In some cases, a magnesium supplement may be recommended.


There are a handful of delicious foods you can eat to naturally increase your magnesium levels, including:

  • Dark, leafy greens, like kale and collard greens
  • Nuts, such as almonds and cashews
  • Whole grains, like oats, wheat, brown rice, or quinoa
  • Legumes, such as black beans, edamame, and lima beans


Vitamin D

Vitamin D for seniors is a critical nutrient—it helps your body absorb calcium, one of the main building blocks for strong bones. Vitamin D protects your body from osteoporosis and provides an extra boost of protection against any potential falls.


Why It Matters

There are several benefits of vitamin d for seniors. In addition to bone health, your muscles, nerves, and immune system rely on vitamin D to move, transmit messages, and fight off any invading bacteria or viruses. Because vitamin D is so critical for health, it’s important to do what you can to ensure you’re getting enough of it.


Some individuals deficient in vitamin D may not experience symptoms. Others may experience symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, aches, cramps, mood changes like depression or anxious thoughts, or bone pain. The long-term impact of a vitamin D deficiency can include diabetes, heart disease, immune system disorders, some types of cancer, and multiple sclerosis.


Some factors that can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D are a lack of sun exposure, laxatives, steroids, seizure-control drugs, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.


If you’re looking to increase your vitamin D to meet the vitamin D requirements for seniors, we caution you against supplementation. It is possible to experience vitamin D toxicity when you’re supplementing it, which can look like:

  • Nausea
  • Intense fatigue
  • Feeling the need to drink or urinate
  • Decreased appetite
  • Unexplained constipation
  • Lack of normal coherence

Prevalence

Vitamin D deficiencies are very common in older adults, particularly those who live in northern climates with limited access to the sun. It’s also noted that individuals with darker skin tones may have a harder time absorbing vitamin D from the sun, leading to a vitamin D deficiency.

How to Increase Vitamin D for Seniors

One of the easiest ways to increase vitamin D for seniors is to get outdoors and soak up some sunshine. It’s recommended to get 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure 2–3 times a week. The goal is to allow the sun to hit your face and arms.


Your body can’t absorb vitamin D through a window, or with sunscreen—so for just a few minutes each week, remove those barriers and let yourself enjoy the sun.

Vitamin C

Another nutritional deficiency to watch out for is vitamin C, a water-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant to protect your cells.


Why It Matters

Vitamin C is an imperative nutrient your body requires to create blood vessels, build muscle, develop collagen in your bones, grow and maintain cartilage, and heal wounds. Vitamin C also serves as an antioxidant working to protect your cells from the impact of free radicals.


Being deficient in vitamin C is relatively rare in the United States and in Canada. However, in rare cases, individuals who get below 10mg of vitamin C per day can suffer from scurvy, a condition with symptoms that include fatigue, joint pain, poor wound healing, gum inflammation, and red or purple spots on the skin.


Prevalence

Most of us are unlikely to see a concerningly low level of vitamin C—however, you may be at risk for a deficiency if you are:

  • A smoker or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Suffering from preexisting conditions, such as a gastrointestinal condition or cancer
  • Eat a restrictive or limited diet that doesn’t regularly include fruits and veggies

How to Increase Vitamin C for Seniors

Is vitamin C good for seniors? Yes! Even though most seniors aren’t deficient in vitamin C, boosting your vitamin C intake often has a positive impact on your health.


One of the easiest ways to naturally increase vitamin C for seniors is to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Many of them are naturally high in vitamin C, but the highest ones are:

  • Citrus (oranges, kiwi, lemon, grapefruit)
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower)
  • White potatoes

Vitamin E

Are you asking yourself, is vitamin E is good for seniors? Absolutely. Just as vitamin C is an important nutrient, vitamin E is as well. The benefits of vitamin E for seniors include healthy blood, brain, and skin. Vitamin E is also known to impact vision and reproductive health, but those results are less likely to be seen in older adults.


Why It Matters

This powerful nutrient contains antioxidant properties, helping protect cells from any damage caused by free radicals. If you’re low or deficient in vitamin E, you may experience a loss of feeling in your arms and legs, a loss of body movement control, muscle weakness and fatigue, vision problems, and a weakened immune system.


The benefits of vitamin E for seniors should come from a healthy diet—and not supplementation. It’s easy to overdose if you’re taking an oral vitamin E supplement and side effects may include:

  • Feeling nauseous or experiencing nausea
  • Diarrhea or trouble with your bowel movements
  • Intestinal cramps or pain
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • General weakness
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Rashes

Prevalence

Although most people are able to get enough vitamin E naturally, some seniors are at a higher risk for a deficiency if they have problems absorbing dietary fat or have had gastric bypass surgery. Additionally, a low concentration of vitamin E in the blood has been linked with physical decline in older adults.

How to Increase Vitamin E for Seniors

Here are a few dietary suggestions to help you incorporate vitamin E-rich foods into your daily diet:

  • Vegetable oils such as wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils
  • Nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds
  • Green vegetables like spinach and broccoli
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Vitamin B12

The benefits of vitamin B12 for seniors include helping your body function in a healthy and efficient way by producing red blood cells and strengthening cell metabolism, nerve function, and bone health.


Why It Matters

While it’s possible to experience a deficiency due to diet, most often a vitamin B12 deficiency is a result of the body being unable to properly digest and use vitamin B12. This could be due to something like Celiac’s disease, Crohn’s disease, prolonged use of drugs to treat gastroesophageal reflux, diabetes, or stomach problems.


When you’re experiencing a vitamin B12 deficiency, it can look like:

  • A tingly or prickly feeling in your legs or hands
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Brain fog or unexplained forgetfulness
  • Difficulty with gross motor activities such as walking
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue

Prevalence

Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common among older adults. Since a lot of the symptoms of deficiency are similar to many conditions that develop with age, it’s important to have an ongoing conversation with your doctor about how you’re feeling—and if you’re interested in pursuing some testing to confirm your B12 levels.

How to Increase Vitamin B12 for Seniors

If you’re wondering how to meet the vitamin B12 requirements for seniors, pursuing a diet-first approach is one of the best ways to increase your levels and feel healthier.


Add these ingredients to your shopping list to keep your B12 levels healthy and high:

  • Lean, red meats
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Some breakfast cereals that include fortified vitamin B-12

Folate

Folate is most commonly associated with prenatal care, however, it’s not a nutrient to discount with age. Folate offers numerous benefits to seniors as it’s involved in the production and formation of red blood cells required for healthy cell growth, function, and regulation.


Why It Matters

Folate is a powerhouse nutrient that helps our bodies do some incredible things. Folate benefits for seniors may include the prevention of the following:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Depression
  • Cancer

A folate deficiency can occur if your diet lacks folate-rich foods, or if you experience a condition that would limit your ability to absorb nutrients in your digestive tract. It is also possible for increased alcohol intake to decrease your body's folate levels.


If you choose to supplement folate, your body will excrete excess folate through your urine, putting you at no risk of overdosing or toxicity. However, we recommend eating a folate-rich diet and talking to your primary care physician before you opt to supplement folate.


Prevalence

Many older adults over the age of 50 are at risk of deficiency in vitamin B12 and folate. A low amount of folate and B12 is linked to poor long-term health among older adults.

How to Increase Folate for Seniors

Boost your folate with a few dietary changes. Folate is found in these foods:

  • Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, or arugula
  • Fruits, such as oranges, melons, bananas, strawberries, or lemons
  • Legumes, such as beans, peas, and nuts
  • Beef liver
  • Fortified cereals and pasta

Potassium

Potassium is an essential mineral that supports healthy kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission.


Why It Matters

Potassium and sodium are closely related. Both play key roles in maintaining overall balance and both have been linked to the risk of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

In mild cases of potassium deficiency, you may be asymptomatic or experience the following:

  • Unexplained constipation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Intense Fatigue
  • Unexplained muscle spasms and weakness
  • Numbness or tingling throughout your body

While potassium is involved in so many things, ongoing low potassium could be stemming from:

  • Excessive urination due to medication
  • Regular and excessive alcohol use
  • Kidney disease
  • Ongoing diarrhea
  • Diuretics (water retention relievers)
  • Excessive and ongoing laxative use
  • Excessive and ongoing sweating
  • Folic acid deficiency
  • Ongoing antibiotic use
  • Prolonged vomiting

Prevalence

Potassium deficiencies in older adults are very common, however, the exact reasons are still unknown. Most people are at risk for low potassium levels after an illness that includes vomiting, diarrhea, or laxative use.


In most cases, older adults who enjoy a balanced diet and ongoing check-ins with your primary care provider will experience normal levels of potassium.

How to Increase Potassium for Seniors

If your doctor encourages you to increase potassium in your diet, here’s a list of foods to help you meet the potassium requirements for seniors.


You should incorporate:

  • A large assortment of colored vegetables, such as acorn squash, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli
  • Fruits like dried apricots, prunes, raisins
  • Orange juice
  • Bananas
  • Legumes, like lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, and nuts
  • Dairy products like milk and yogurt
  • Proteins from meats, poultry, and fish

Fiber

Fiber is an important nutrient in maintaining a healthy digestive system. It contributes to healthy, regular bowel movements—and without enough fiber, you may experience constipation or stomach issues.


Why It Matters

Fiber can be understood in two categories: soluble and insoluble fiber.

  • Soluble fiber absorbs water during the digestive process and becomes gel-like. This helps balance your blood sugar and lower your blood cholesterol and glucose.
  • Insoluble fiber remains unchanged as you digest it—and doesn’t expand when exposed to water. This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases the bulk of the bowel moment.

Prevalence

As we age, our digestive systems change as well. The gastrointestinal tract may become less able to fully absorb nutrients, leading to malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies, and constipation. Dietary fiber for older adults is very important: the recommended total fiber intake for adults over the age of 50 should include at least 30 grams per day for men and 21 grams per day for women.


If you’re not having regular bowel movements, you should consider talking with your doctor about increasing fiber in your diet and potentially supplementing if you’re unable to get enough through food alone.

How to Increase Fiber for Seniors

When considering fiber requirements for seniors, you need both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet.


Soluble fiber is found in:

  • Fruits like apples, citrus, and pears
  • Vegetables like carrots and peas
  • Legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans

Insoluble fiber is found in:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pancakes
  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Nuts

Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids typically include three main types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body doesn’t produce ALA naturally—so you must get it from the foods you consume.


Why It Matters

Omega-3s are powerful components of each membrane that surrounds every cell of your body. They also provide calories to your body and foster a healthy heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system.


Omega-3s have also been shown to support a handful of diseases, including:

  • Heart Disease: People who eat dietary sources of fish oil twice per week have a reduced risk of dying from heart disease—however, taking fish oil supplements is not shown to have the same impact.
  • High triglycerides and cholesterol: Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce blood triglyceride levels and increase your “good” cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure: Among people who take fish oil supplements, studies reported a decrease in high blood pressure.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Omega-3s can lead to a decrease in your inflammatory response which helps to reduce pain, lessen morning stiffness, and improve joint tenderness.

Not only are omega-3s good for supporting specific diseases, but they’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older people. It is also suggested that fish oil can help boost the immune system when taken or incorporated into your diet regularly.


Prevalence

Omega-3 fatty acids are recognized as one of the key nutrients that support a successful aging process. Studies find that an increase in omega-3 fatty acids can help with cognitive function, bone health, muscle tone, and overall health status.

How to Increase Omega 3 for Seniors

Wondering how to increase omega-3 fatty acids for seniors? Omega-3s are found naturally in many foods and you can typically get an adequate amount of omega-3s directly from your diet.


Here are a few ideas to help you incorporate fish oil into your diet naturally:

  • Fish, particularly cold-water fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds, such as chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds
  • Plant oils, such as soybean oil, canola oil, and flaxseed oil

There are also omega-3 dietary supplements available. Talk with your primary care physician about the best potential option for your overall health.

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© 2022 Everdays, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Everdays mark and the Everdays logo are registered trademarks of Everdays, Inc.
* This app is owned and operated by Everdays, Inc., a Delaware corporation doing business in California as Everdays Moments Insurance Marketing.