4 Supplements to Support Senior Health

Do you know a senior or aging adult who has difficulty consuming all of the nutrients needed for a healthy diet? Supplements can contain minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and many other ingredients that help support dietary needs. While they are not medications, supplements can be used to improve overall health and help manage some health conditions. Here are some supplements to consider adding to your diet, or that of a loved one:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a nutrient the body needs to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in bones. Vitamin C is also vital to the body’s healing process, and can help protect cells against the effects of free radicals — molecules produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to tobacco smoke and radiation from the sun, X-rays or other sources. Free radicals might play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.  This supplement also helps your body absorb and store iron, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a nutrient the body needs for building and maintaining healthy bones. This is because the body can only absorb calcium, the primary component of bone, when Vitamin D is present. This supplement also regulates many other cellular functions in the body. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties of Vitamin support immune health, muscle function and brain cell activity. Vitamin D isn’t naturally found in many foods, but the body also makes vitamin D when direct sunlight converts a chemical in the skin into an active form of the vitamin (calciferol). The amount of vitamin D the skin makes depends on many factors, including the time of day, season, latitude and your skin pigmentation, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) plays an essential role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA, the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information. As the body is capable of storing several years’ worth of vitamin B-12, deficiency is rare. However, those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet might be prone to deficiency because plant foods don’t contain vitamin B-12. Older adults and people with digestive tract conditions that affect absorption of nutrients are also susceptible to vitamin B-12 deficiency. Left untreated, a vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness, intestinal problems, nerve damage and mood disturbances, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Fish Oil: Fish oil is a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. The body needs omega-3 fatty acids for many functions, from muscle activity to cell growth. Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from food, but they cannot be manufactured in the body. Fish oil contains two omega-3s called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Dietary sources of DHA and EPA are fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and trout, and shellfish, such as mussels, oysters and crabs. Some nuts, seeds and vegetable oils contain another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Fish oil supplements come in liquid, capsule and pill form. People take fish oil for the anti-inflammatory effects, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Note: The FDA is the federal agency that oversees both supplements and medicines, but the FDA‘s regulations for dietary supplements are different from those for prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Before taking any supplements, individuals should discuss the risks with their physician. It’s important to always be alert to the possibility of a bad reaction, especially when taking a new product.

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Heat-Related Health Dangers Among Seniors

Each year, individuals over the age of 50 account for the majority of those who die from hyperthermia. Now that it’s officially summer, reminding aging and elderly loved ones of the dangers associated with heat is extremely important. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), aging affects older adults’ ability to respond to heat, resulting in heat-related illnesses. Known collectively as hyperthermia, such illnesses can include heat edema, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Specifically, heat stroke is a severe form of hyperthermia that occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature. The NIH reports that someone with a body temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit is likely suffering from heat stroke. Symptoms to look out for include fainting; a change in behavior (confusion, combativeness, staggering, possible delirium or coma); dry, flushed skin and a strong, rapid pulse; and lack of sweating. If someone, especially an older adult, appears to be experiencing any of these symptoms, those around them should seek immediate medical attention for that person.

Ultimately, there are a number of factors that can influence an aging adult’s ability to withstand high-temperature conditions. For example, age-related changes to the skin, such as poor blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands, can reduce tolerance. Additionally, heart, lung and kidney diseases as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever increase heat-related risks. 

Further, high blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet, such as salt-restricted diets, as well as being substantially overweight or underweight can result in dangerous conditions. Another condition to avoid which may amplify heat risks is dehydration. Other factors that may increase risk of hyperthermia are: 

  • Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
  • Taking several drugs for various conditions. (It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.)
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages.

To avoid heat-related illness, aging adults should stay indoors on particularly hot and humid days, especially when there is an air pollution alert in effect. To stay cool, the NIH recommends drinking plenty of fluids and wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothes in natural fabrics. People without fans or air conditioners should keep their homes as comfortable as possible or go someplace cool.

If someone is suspected of suffering from a heat-related illness, they or someone they are with should:

  • Call 911 if you suspect heat stroke.
  • Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or otherwise cool place. Urge them to lie down.
  • If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water and fruit or vegetable juices, but not alcohol or caffeine.
  • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits and groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and a cold cloth can help cool the blood.
  • Encourage the person to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water if it is safe to do so.

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