Female nursing home residents who have vitamin D deficiencies are more likely to die prematurely, highlighting the need for clinicians to do more to prevent and treat the common condition, according to a new study.
Researchers, writing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, said the majority of institutionalized elderly female patients are vitamin D deficient, which puts them at risk. Scientists, from the Medical University of Graz in Austria, said the problem can be fixed simply – by providing daily doses of up to 800 international units of vitamin D.
"Our findings show that the vast majority of nursing home residents are severely vitamin D deficient and those with the lowest vitamin D levels are at high risk of mortality," said lead researcher Dr. Stefan Pilz. "This situation warrants immediate action to prevent and treat vitamin D deficiency."
For the study, researchers tracked the health of 961 nursing home residents in Austria, with an average age of 83 years. The researchers recorded 284 deaths over a period of 27 months. Their findings showed that vitamin D levels were below recommended levels in nearly 93 percent of the study participants.
The findings suggest that while vitamin D deficiency among frail and elderly populations has been acknowledged for decades, effective strategies to treat it have been developed and implemented.
"Vitamin D supplementation in these patients can exert significant benefits on clinically relevant outcomes such as fractures," said Pilz, noting the vitamin strengthens bones. "In light of our findings, and the existing literature on adverse effects of vitamin D deficiency, there exists now an urgent need for effective strategies to improve vitamin D status in older institutionalized patients."