A recent study found that elderly women residing in nursing homes may face greater rates of mortality if they are not getting enough vitamin D. The study will appear in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, a publication of The Endocrine Society. Researchers at the Medical University of Graz, Austria, looked at a sample group of 961 residents. Members of the sample group had an average age of 83.7 years. The study found that, not only does vitamin D deficiency carry a greater risk of death, but that vitamin D deficiency may be common in nursing homes. This could have important implications for the nutritional care that female residents receive in nursing homes.
The researchers examined the 961 residents and followed up twenty-seven months later. They found that 284 individuals, roughly thirty percent of the group, had died during that time. They noted low vitamin D levels in 92.8 percent of the group members. While vitamin D deficiencies have been common knowledge among researchers for some time, the study authors said, no one has developed good strategies for treatment yet. Given the increased risk of bone fractures and other such injuries in patients with low vitamin D, the researchers urge the medical community to work on ways to remedy these deficiencies.
Low levels of vitamin D can have multiple health effects. Scientists have known about an increased rate of mortality due to vitamin D deficiency for some time, but the Graz study has helped tie it to specific populations. Vitamin D is also very important for bone health. Deficiency can cause bone damage, sometimes known as rickets, and it can contribute to an overall loss of bone density that makes fractures and breaks more likely. Some research suggests that vitamin D supplements can help with cardiovascular disease, some cancers, asthma, multiple sclerosis, immune strength, and certain neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. These claims are all controversial, and no scientific consensus exists on any of them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only allows the food industry to claim on its labels that vitamin D “may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”
Vitamin D may be obtained through certain types of fish, fruits and vegetables, or foods specifically fortified with vitamin D. According to the National Institutes of Health, many people meet much of their vitamin D requirements through exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight interacts with chemicals already present in the skin to produce vitamin D. People who spend most of their time indoors, which could include many nursing homes residents, may face vitamin D deficiencies.
Nursing homes and their administrators and staff have a legal duty to provide for the needs of their residents, particularly in areas where the residents cannot care for themselves. This includes not only medical care but also nutrition. At a bare minimum, nursing homes should meet the basic nutritional needs of their residents, which includes adequate vitamin D. For patients whose conditions may force them to remain indoors for substantial periods of time, this is an especially important duty.
The Maryland nursing home lawyers at Lebowitz and Mzhen represent people who have been injured due to abuse or neglect by staff members. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
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Prevention of Nursing Home Falls and Hip-Fractures in the Elderly, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, August 8, 2011
Nursing Home Sued Again for Wrongful Death and Negligence, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, July 1, 2011