One of the many challenges that those taking care of elderly loved ones often face is making sure that their nutritional needs are properly met. This can be difficult for many reasons, including the fact that it can be challenging to find a balance of diet and supplements to supply all the necessary nutrients. One of the vitamins which is frequently deficient in seniors is vitamin B12.
What is B12?
Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins and plays a big role in brain and nervous system function. Although B12 is found in many foods, the vitamin is not actually produced by animals, plants, or fungi. Instead, it is created by bacteria and by archaea (a “cousin” of bacteria). So when those bacteria are active in certain ways in animals, vitamin B12 does get stored in those products and can be consumed via diet in that way. Thus, vitamin B12 can be found in eggs, milk, liver, meat, fish, and poultry. Plants do not naturally contain vitamin B12, but many plant-based foods get fortified with B12 for commercial sale.
When a person is deficient in B12, it can present via a range of symptoms. These include:
- Anemia. B12 is important for the proper production of red blood cells, so when there is too little B12, a person may feel especially tired or fatigued.
- Impaired nerve function. Because B12 is important in keeping the nervous system healthy, a deficiency can impact the nerves, creating numbness, tingling, and burning. It can also affect balance and the ability to walk properly. With falls being a major concern for seniors, those taking care of elderly individuals want to avoid anything which can contribute to that risk.
- Cognition. Cognitive ability is also impacted by lack of B12, most likely due to the vitamin’s role in neural health. This can exacerbate issues in those with dementia.
Those taking care of elderly patients should ask a doctor to look at their B12 levels. If they are deficient, a doctor and/or nutritionist can help to determine what needs to be done to increase B12. There are many B12 supplements available, which may be prescribed. Adding more sources of B12 to the diet — such as dairy products, fish and seafood, or beef liver — may also be recommended.
Those taking care of elderly patients will want to make sure that they are also getting enough B12 themselves. Caregivers often feel tired, and if lack of B12 is creating fatigue, it can help to address that issue.