Coping with Dementia: Watch your Vitamin D
I have a friend who spent a 35-year career in a northern state, and each year struggled with seasonal depression, especially in the gray months of January and February. Once retired, he headed for sunny Florida. It was not just the cold and snow he was tired of. It was those sunless months when his spirits crashed.
A few years after moving to Florida, he was diagnosed with an autoimmune lung disorder, which his doctor has been able to manage with medication. Everything seemed to be going well until this spring when suddenly he became fatigued and began to experience difficulty breathing. He was so tired, there were days he could barely find the strength to get out of bed. Breathing tests and CT scans showed that his lung disease had not progressed, but he felt so bad that he became convinced he was dying.
When time rolled around for routine bloodwork, it was discovered that his Vitamin D level was extremely low. He started a daily Vitamin D supplement, and soon his fatigue was gone, his mood improved, and his breathing eased. He had been experiencing severe depression, but how was this possible in sunny Florida; and why now?
Vitamin D is important to Health
Due to his lung condition, my friend self-isolated to the extreme when Covid-19 arrived last winter, and his new quarantine-based lifestyle had become pretty much “sunless!” When he realized this, his depression suddenly made sense.
I began to think about how quarantine has affected people living with dementia. With memory care and assisted living communities locked down, we are seeing those with dementia decline more rapidly than usual. Isolation, loneliness, and separation from their loved ones is resulting in more rapid loss of weight, verbal skills, cognition, and morale.
I have begun to wonder to what extent Vitamin D deficiency can account for at least part of this decline. Yes, I realize dementia is progressive by nature, but wouldn’t it be an interesting and simple solution if we could eliminate at least part of this decline with better attention to Vitamin D?
Low Vitamin D had an extreme affect on my friend – who does not have dementia – and attention to that deficit caused a quick recovery. It leads me to make the simple suggestion that care partners everywhere at least look at this issue and ask for D-level testing. It could result in an improvement in quality of life, and in the absence of a cure, quality of life is the only gift we can give our loved ones living with dementia.
Debbie Selsavage is a Certified Trainer and Consultant in the Positive Approach to Care and a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She authors a monthly column to assist caregivers in coping with Dementia. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact Debbie at [email protected].