Over 75% of adults take dietary supplements such as probiotics, curcumin, vitamin D, fish oil, and multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. Sometimes dietary supplements are life changers. Anyone who has had electrolyte imbalances can attest to how bad it feels to have low potassium, low sodium, or high calcium blood levels. For people who are not able to tolerate statins, soluble fiber and omega 3 supplements can be used as an alternative.
Older adults have some unique attributes that increase risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. As our guts age, their ability to absorb vitamin B12 declines. Many heart medications taken by older adults increase risk for electrolyte imbalances such as: low potassium, sodium, and magnesium. As skin and kidneys age, they become less efficient at converting vitamin D into an active form.
While these nutrient needs are increasing, the aging body’s calorie needs decline. For some, it is entirely possible to drop all non-nutritious foods and boost intakes of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds; but many adults develop dental and respiratory issues that make chewing healthy, high fiber foods unappealing. For these people, dietary supplements are a feasible option.
In long-term care (LTC) facilities or similar skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, dietary supplements are often overlooked—sometimes forgotten, and sometimes overused (JNHR). They can be a burden on the patient, staff, and facility budget. Most facilities pay for and stock their own dietary supplements. For staff, nutrient levels of dietary supplements need to be monitored with regular labs, and interactions must be considered for each new medication prescribed. For the patient, some dietary supplements cause gastrointestinal upset—calcium and iron both contribute to constipation, and high doses of vitamin C and magnesium cause diarrhea.
A Registered Dietitian (R.D.) is skilled at managing supplements. The R.D. knows each resident’s nutrient needs and their potential for drug/nutrient interactions and depletions. They know when a multi-vitamin will be enough, when a special form and dose of a nutrient is needed, and when the costs outweigh the benefits. Always consult your healthcare provider or R.D. before starting any dietary supplement program to ensure proper doses are being taken.
Bernstein, M., & Munoz, N. (2012). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Food and Nutrition for Older Adults: Promoting Health and Wellness. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(8), 1255–1277. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.06.015
Concurrent Use of Dietary Supplements and Medications in Long-Term Care Facility Residents with Advanced Dementia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.jnursinghomeresearch.com/536-concurrent-use-of-dietary-supplements-and-medications-in-long-term-care-facility-residents-with-advanced-dementia.html
Rosenbloom,.C. (2020). Dietary Supplement Use in Older Adults: Help, Hype, or Hope? [Webinar]. Today’s Dietitian. Retrieved from https://ce.todaysdietitian.com/SupplementUse.