Older Adults and Nutrient Deficiencies

One segment of the population that is experiencing substantial growth is older adults, those 65 years old and over. 


The US Census Bureau estimates that:

  • 1 in 5 people will be 65 years old or older by 2030
  • By 2050, there will be about 78 million older adults, almost one quarter of the population
  • 18 million of those will be 85 years old and up, which is also known as the “oldest old” population 

In this report the Census Bureau states, “since the oldest old often have severe chronic health problems which demand special attention, the rapid growth of this population group has many implications for individuals, families and governments”.1

Through the natural process of aging, without disease, the human body’s ability to absorb important nutrients changes.

  • Changes in the sense of smell and saliva secretions decrease the desire to eat, causing decreased caloric and nutrient intake.
  • Less hydrochloric acid is produced as aging occurs, creating a less acidic environment for iron and calcium absorption.2
  • Less intrinsic factor production and medications like PPI’s, H2 antagonists, and even metformin, limit the amount of vitamin B12 that is available for the body’s use.
  • Excessive alcohol intake can also limit the amount of available vitamin B12 3
  • Limited sun exposure and reduced kidney function make vitamin D less available for older adults.2

With decreased intake and absorption, deficiencies can occur and increase health risks in older adults. 

  • Vitamin D is not only important for the absorption of calcium and bone health, but it is important for muscle strength and balance. Weak musculature and poor balance can also increase fall risk with possibility of fracture; which puts older adults at greater risk.3 
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with mood symptoms, such as depression, and cognitive impairment, like dementia.4

Addressing deficiencies early with supplementation can reduce the risk of chronic issues.   

Older Adults

Older adults need the same amount or more nutrients than their younger counterparts, but they require fewer daily calories.

  • Adults 50-70 years of age should get 600 IU of vitamin D per day
  • Those over age 70 should get 800 IU of vitamin D per day
  • Dosing of vitamin D should never exceed 4000 IU vitamin D per day
  • Adults over the age of 60 years old should get 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. It may be difficult to get this amount from food so supplementation may be necessary with the guidance of your doctor and your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist 5
  • Women over 51 and men over 71 should obtain 1,200 mg of calcium per day from food sources or supplementation with the guidance of your doctor and your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. 

Eating nutrient dense foods becomes very important for their health and well-being.  This My Plate for Older Adults published by the Florida Cooperative Extension, is a good reference to encourage older adults to eat healthy nourishing foods first, stay active and add extra supplements to their diet for better health. 

Older Adult Plate

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists can be GREAT sources of information for this population to remain healthy and active. To learn more, please contact a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist on the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website by clicking Find a RD.


Written by Idaho State University Student,

Becky Woodhouse


  1. https://www.census.gov/population/international/files/97agewc.pdf. Accessed April 19, 2016
  2. Robnett RH, Chop WC. Gerontology for the health care professional. 3rd ed. United States: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; January 22, 2014.
  3. Skarupski KA, Tangney C, Li H, Ouyang B, Evans DA, Morris MC. Longitudinal association of vitamin B-6, folate, and vitamin B-12 with depressive symptoms among older adults over time. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;92(2):330–335. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29413.
  4. Muir SW, Montero-Odasso M. Effect of vitamin D Supplementation on muscle strength, gait and balance in older adults: A systematic review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2011;59(12):2291–2300. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03733.x.
  5. Institute N, Aging. Vitamins & minerals. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/whats-your-plate/vitamins-minerals. Accessed April 25, 2016.
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