Reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is under-recognized and under treated for elders. This partly due to the fact that older adults spend more time indoors and have inadequate intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D supplements are one part of the solution; however, most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is produced when ultra violet rays from sunshine meet the skin and trigger Vitamin D synthesis. Studies suggest that Vitamin D deficiency is the cause of the ‘bone-wasting’ disease Osteoporosis. Elders complaining of unexplained pain, injuries from falls, gait disorders may all be a result of a lack of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is easily remedied if we simply create more opportunities for elders to spend time outdoors. This applies to elders living in all communities, including senior communities, assisted living facilities and Alzheimer’s residences. Creating Therapeutic Gardens, walking paths, community vegetable gardens and other outdoor garden areas will encourage elders to venture outdoors. Spending time in sunlight is vital to their health and well-being. By providing benches, people spend more time outside and socialize. It also helps to include activities that people would find in their neighborhoods such as putting greens, bocce and croquet courts.
It is important to remember that the season of the year, the time of day, smog, and skin melatonin are among the factors that affect Vitamin D synthesis. Cloud cover can reduce the suns potential energy by 50%. Shade reduces Vitamin D intake by 60%. Even though we may enjoy sitting next to a sunny window, the sun’s radiation does not penetrate glass. It is estimated that between 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week is helpful for Vitamin D production. And the sunlight is absorbed best when the face, arms and legs are exposed without sunscreen. We need to create stimulating outdoor gardens and outdoor environments that encourage elders to spend more time outdoors in the sunshine – starting this spring!