Elderly care during COVID-19: Vitamin D deficiency on the rise

The problem of Vitamin D deficiency has aggravated during the pandemic as the elderly have no exposure to sunlight and their diet is highly deficient in Vitamin D.

Vitamin D (VD) deficiency is a major public health problem worldwide. In spite of its high prevalence, particularly among elderly people, VD deficiency is still an underestimated issue. Particularly, during the pandemic, Vitamin D deficiency in the elderly has become a critical problem, more so among the population living in slum areas. Most elderly living in Delhi slums already suffer from it due to a diet poor in Vitamin D. This problem has aggravated currently as the elderly have no exposure to sunlight and their diet is highly deficient in Vitamin D. As the skin of the elderly thins with age, the synthesis of Vitamin D becomes much less efficient. Reduced appetite and impaired absorption of nutrients further compounds the problem.

The way it is manifesting is such that their muscles are weakening. They feel heaviness in their legs and have difficulty standing up. Their risk of falls and fractures has increased to dangerous levels. They feel tired all the time and have widespread pain in areas like the shoulders, pelvis, rib cage and lower back, leaving them drained. Low levels of Vitamin D can be a causative factor in Inflammatory Bowel Disease as well. Vitamin D regulates immune function and the release of neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood (Dopamine and Serotonin). The elderly who are feeling depressed and tired could be suffering from Vitamin D deficiency. They may suffer from cognitive decline and be at a greater risk for developing various forms of dementia.

A not-for-profit body Asha has begun giving 60,000 IU of Vitamin D3 weekly to all seniors 65 and above in Delhi slums. Asha is also running weekly geriatric clinics at all Asha centres within the slums to provide the elderly with health care. Asha also provides the elderly with essential groceries on a regular basis so that their nutritional needs are met. Asha also has eating and drinking rituals for the elderly to help them feel connected and loved. Asha team members and volunteers visit the elderly in their homes regularly to check on them and spend time with them. The Asha Advocacy Groups intervene when the elderly are treated unfairly or poorly by their family members too.

‘’We must all stand together with the elderly in every way, not only through this pandemic, but also beyond, being Ambassadors of love to them and bringing joy into their lives every day. We will do a lot more for them and help them age in a healthy and dignified manner,” Dr Kiran Martin, Founder & Director of Asha.

Asha Community Health and Development Society provides holistic community-based healthcare, empowerment, financial inclusion, education and environmental improvements by training resourcing and encouraging slum communities to receive and enjoy their basic human rights.

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