Five Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Elderly

  • Nutrient deficiencies in seniors are due to poor appetite and decreased absorption.
  • Examples are iron, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamins D and K.
  • Treating these deficiencies is vital to help prevent diseases and improve health.

Good nutrition is vital to healthy aging. But what happens when your body cannot digest some foods? Let’s look at the five common nutrient deficiencies in elderly, their causes, and how to treat them.

What Is a Nutrient Deficiency

Nutrients are substances from food that your body needs to grow and be healthy. (e.g., vitamins, minerals, proteins, or calories). When you don’t have enough of these nutrients, you can develop a nutrient deficiency.

Signs Of Nutrient Deficiency In Elderly

Signs of low nutrient levels in older adults include:

Causes of Common Nutrient Deficiency In Elderly

There are many factors that cause poor nutrition in seniors. Some of them include:

  • Diseases: Some diseases, such as diabetes, can cause foods to be poorly absorbed by the body. This may lead to poor nutrition.
  • Medications: Some medications may reduce your appetite, making you eat less food than usual. This decreased food intake can make you lack some nutrients.
  • Strict Diets: A strict diet can lead to low food intake. This may cause low amount of nutrients in the body.
  • Poverty: Lack of enough money can make it hard for some people to buy healthy foods. This can cause poor nutrition.
  • Memory Problems: Memory problems can make older adults forget to eat. They may also fail to do food shopping or cook. 

Iron Deficiency

This condition occurs when your body lacks healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your body tissues, giving you energy.

 When you lack enough iron, your body produces little hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen. 


Symptoms of low iron include:

  • Pale skin
  • Tiredness
  • Body weakness
  • Dizziness 
  • Headache

What to Do When You Have Iron Deficiency 

When you think you don’t have enough iron, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. This way, they’ll do tests to know if that’s the case and what’s causing it. 

Once done, your doctor may treat the cause of your low iron by recommending you:

  • Take iron supplements.
  • Eat foods high in iron, like dates. Dates also have other vitamins.
  • Eat vitamin C-rich foods when eating iron-rich foods as they help with iron absorption.

B Vitamins Deficiencies

B vitamins are a group of eight vitamins that your body needs to be healthy. They are vitamin B1 (thiamin), 2 (riboflavin), 3 (niacin), 5 (pantothenic acid), 6 (pyridoxine), 7 (biotin), 9 (folate), and 12 (cobalamin).

When you’re low in either of the above, you’ll have unique symptoms for each. 


Symptoms of low amounts of B vitamins include:

  • Tiredness and body weakness
  • Loss of memory
  • Pale skin
  • Wounds in the mouth
  • Memory loss
  • Tingling in the hands and legs

What to Do When You Have B Vitamins Deficiencies

The first thing you need to do when you think you’re low in B vitamins is to visit your doctor. Your doctor will likely recommend you take B vitamins supplements. They may also tell you to eat foods high in B vitamins, like meat, dairy, seafood, and eggs.

Calcium Deficiency

As we age, our body’s natural tendency to reduce dietary intake and slow down nutrient absorption can lead to calcium deficiency, resulting in loss of bone mass. This age-related decline in bone mass can significantly impact our bone mineral density.

Symptoms of calcium deficiency in seniors include:

  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Weak bones that break easily
  • Tingling in the face, hands, and feet

What to Do When You Have Calcium deficiency

You can treat low calcium by adding more calcium to thediet. This can be through taking supplements or eating foods highin calcium. Examples include dairy, sardine, salmon, and eggs. 

Vitamin D Deficiency

There are many reasons why seniors may lack enough vitamin D. Some of them include a poor diet and low sunlight exposure.

Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption. This means low levels of vitamin D can reduce calcium in the body.


Symptoms of low amounts of vitamin D are:

  • Tiredness
  • Weak muscles
  • Problems with digestion
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes

What to Do When You Have Vitamin D Deficiency

Taking supplements is the best way to manage low vitamin D in seniors. Your doctor will guide you on the right medications and dosages.

Eating foods rich in vitamin D is another great way of increasing this vitamin in your body. Examples of such foods are eggs, beef liver, cow’s milk, yogurt, and sardines. 

Vitamin K Deficiency

Vitamin K is essential in healthy aging. It helps prevent excessive bleeding. Vitamin K also improves mobility, muscle strength, and brain functions.


Low vitamin K may cause the following symptoms:

  • Too much bleeding
  • Dark stools that may contain blood
  • Problems with movement

What to Do When You Have Vitamin K Deficiency

When you think you don’t have enough vitamin K, talk with your doctor on the supplements to use and the dose.

If you have a deficiency identified, t’s crucial also to increase your intake of  foods  rich in vitamin K: E.g., spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and kale.

Note, Vitamin K can change how blood thinners work. Talk to your doctor before starting a supplement or increasing your dietary Vitamin K intake if you are on these medications.

Importance of Proper Nutrition for The Elderly

Here’s why good nutrition is vital for older adults:

  • It ensures they get the right amount of all the nutrients they need. 
  • It also helps prevent diseases caused by excess nutrients, such as obesity.
  • Good nutrition boosts immunity; this helps to keep diseases at bay.
  • Healthy eating improves digestion.


Low nutrient levels in seniors can be due to poor appetite, decreased absorption, and poverty. The five common nutrient deficiencies in elderly are iron, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamins K and D.

You can manage these deficiencies by taking supplements. Or, you can eat foods rich in the lacking nutrients. Doing so is vital will help you live a healthy life.

Scientific Information

Haemoglobin – a protein molecule in red blood cells that transports oxygen.

Written by:
Mwanajuma Ali
Dietician Nutritionist



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