Elderly health is a rising concern owing to the various health risks that make them vulnerable to illnesses. Apart from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and other problems, the elderly are also at greater risk of falls and fractures. For bone health, calcium is considered as an important mineral in addition to other nutrients. So, are the elderly getting enough calcium to stay healthy?
Studies report that by 2050, the American 85-year-old and over people will by tripled.1 Sensory, cognitive changes, and weakness, falls, cardiovascular diseases and difficulty in daily activities are some of the common problems faced by elderly.1
Aging brings in a lot of health problems – some due to natural wear and tear, while some are influenced by other health problems. The elderly face many health risks like falls and fractures as their age advances.
As people are living longer, the fracture risk increases. Every year, about 1.5 million individuals suffer a fracture due to bone disease. The risk of fracture increases with age and is more in women.2
It is believed that the appropriate intake of calcium vitamin D, proteins, and other nutrients can help protect bone health later in life. So, are the elderly getting enough calcium? It is important to understand their health status and their intake of certain nutrients to prevent these problems.
Are The Elderly Getting Enough Calcium?
It is noted that many nations are aging faster. With improved medical advancement and better treatment options, there is an improvement in life expectancy. This implies that there are more people expected in the advanced ages, most of them with sustained chronic problems. With natural generative changes, bone health is an important health issue in aging. Along with other changes, a decline in muscle strength and bone changes are the commonest ones affecting people from midlife. However, the real concern may begin a few decades later, thus making the elderly population at greater risk.
Are the elderly getting enough calcium? This question is worth considering and pondering over. Let us see what some studies have to say.
Several researchers have shown that many older Americans may not be getting enough calcium. According to the University of Connecticut and Yale University, older men and women consume less calcium in their diet as compared to the younger ones. This makes it necessary to modify their food intake or consider taking supplements to prevent osteoporosis. It was also noted that by the age of 50, the daily calcium intake through food, mostly in women is substantially below the recommended levels.3 Further, the researchers reported that the situation is even worse amongst the elderly age groups, beyond, 60, 70, and 80 years of age.
Other studies too report that an average elderly person is in negative calcium balance and is losing bone mass. Decreased mechanical loading of the skeleton, resulting in age-related loss, there is growing evidence to suggest that inadequate calcium intake may contribute to bone loss.4 The study also reports that while calcium intake in the elderly is less than the young, reduced absorption efficiency furthers lowers effective intake. Also, other nutrients like proteins, fiber, if taken in excess can increase calcium requirement. Estrogen withdrawal at menopause can lead to a decrease in efficiency of calcium intestinal absorption and renal calcium conservation and both of these can increase the calcium requirement.4
Why is Calcium Important?
Weak muscles, lack of strength, fatigue, osteoarthritis due to degeneration are the commonest ones related to bone. But something even more important is osteoporosis, which increases the risk of falls and fractures. Osteoporosis is a bone health problem characterized by low bone mass and structural weakening of the bone material that results in reduced bone strength and increased susceptibility to fractures.2
Studies have also pointed out that the inadequate intake of calcium can increase the risk of osteoporosis – which occurs due to the weakening of bones with aging, which can further lead to disability and death.3 After discussing if the elderly are getting enough calcium or not, it is important to understand the role of calcium and the ways to improve its intake.
But why do these happen?
It is noted that there are certain risk factors for low bone density that can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, particularly in the elderly. Conditions that increase the chances of developing osteoporosis include fracture history, after age 50, advanced age, family history, female gender, small bone frame, estrogen deficiency, amenorrhea, low testosterone levels, certain chronic diseases, medications, inactivity, smoking and alcohol intake, long-term low intake of calcium and vitamin D deficiency.2
Experts believe it is the combination of adequate nutrient intake, either through food or supplementation, proper absorption, and regular exercises that can help in building and maintaining bone health. It is reported that adequate calcium intake during childhood is necessary to achieve optimal peak bone mass, which can increase bone reserves and help modulate age-related bone loss.5
Calcium plays a crucial role in promoting bone health and preventing osteoporosis. As energy intake reduces with aging, it is necessary to increase the intake of calcium-rich foods and calcium supplements to maintain adequate calcium intake.6
There is a lot you can do to protect bone health, maximize the efficiency of calcium intake, and prevent bone loss. Some of the important steps suggested by the National Osteoporosis Foundation, to optimize bone health include:
- Get the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D
- Practice regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol
- Seek medical opinion for bone health
- Get a bone density test done and take medication if needed
While calcium supplementation has proved effective in many cases, regular exercises, particularly strength training are also necessary to reduce bone loss in the elderly. So, apart from considering if the elderly are getting enough calcium or not, family and caretakers must also focus on whether the elderly are active or not.
Other recommendations from experts also include regular exposure to the sun for vitamin D and daily exercises – a morning walk in the sun would be perfect. Include foods rich in calcium like milk and milk products, dairy, green leafy vegetables, sprouts, and whole grains. Avoid intake of colas and caffeinated beverages to reduce bone loss.
Above all, talk to your physician and get yourself checked regularly. Discuss your daily calcium requirement and your regular intake. Know the recommended daily intake of calcium for your age and health condition. Consider taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, as advised.