Elderly not getting enough ‘sun’

October 10, 2013

SINGAPORE – This is sunny Singapore. Yet seven in 10 of the elderly here are not getting enough vitamin D.

Many of them tend to stay indoors, often after suffering from falls, strokes or depression.

An international expert on geriatric medicine, Professor John E. Morley, said the problem is not unique to Singapore.

“We see similar patterns in Mexico and Australia. Old people do not go out into the sun, often resulting in brittle bones,” he said.

Mr Marathu Sinniah, a 96-year-old grandfather who is blind and hard of hearing, is one such elderly person. He spends most of his days at home.

Dr Mark Chan said Mr Marathu has deteriorated functionally since his stroke in 2007.

“Due to his visual impairment and dementia, he needs constant supervision and has fallen a few times,” said Dr Chan, who is deputy head of the department of geriatric medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

As a result of his recurrent falls, Mr Marathu has been advised to continue taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Mindful of that, his grandson and main caretaker, Mr Nelson Arul, 46, also makes sure he gets his daily trips. “We take him to the nearby park.

Since he became blind about 30 years ago, taking him to places is no longer meaningful as his visual memory is of bygone years,” he said.

Prof Morley, who was here recently as the Health Ministry’s visiting expert in geriatric medicine, also noted that family physicians here do not screen elderly patients enough for frailty.

“Frailty affects between 5 and 10 per cent of those who are older than 70. Over a period of time, it leads to increased death rates, poor function and increased hospitalisation.

“It’s treatable. All we’re asking doctors to do is spend 15 seconds to conduct a screening that could prevent bad outcomes,” he told The New Paper.

Prof Morley, from Saint Louis University, Missouri, US, was also concerned about the over-prescription of statins, drugs used to lower cholesterol levels.

“While they serve their purpose among the 40-somethings, prolonging their lives for another 40 years, these should be reduced or stopped for those 70 years and above,” he said, adding that this group often eat less and naturally lower their cholesterol levels.

What is Vitamin D?

A hormone produced in the skin that is essential for many vital functions.

Why is Vitamin D good for you?

It encourages the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous.

What happens if there is a lack of Vitamin D?

– Causes rickets in children

– Causes osteomalacia, or softening of the bones, in adults, resulting in pain and fragility.

– Causes muscular weakness and osteoporosis in the elderly.

Sources of Vitamin D:

– Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel; fish liver oils are among the best sources. Small amounts are found in cheese and egg yolk.

– Most people meet some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight.

Source: The New Paper
Published: 07 Oct 2013


Category: Community, Features

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