Is Link Between Cognitive Decline and Vitamin D
Deficiency in Seniors a Clue to Treatment?
Controlled trials are needed to determine whether
vitamin D supplementation can prevent cognitive decline
April 15, 2014 – Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive
impairment are common in senior citizens, but there isn't a lot of
conclusive research into whether there's a relationship between the two.
A new study out today, however, has found evidence of an association
between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline in seniors. The lead
author is calling for clinical trials to see if vitamin D can prevent
The new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical
Center published online ahead of print this month in the Journal of
the American Geriatrics Society enhances the existing literature on
"This study provides increasing evidence that
suggests there is an association between low vitamin D levels and
cognitive decline over time," said lead author Valerie Wilson, M.D.,
assistant professor of geriatrics at Wake Forest Baptist.
"Although this study cannot establish a direct
cause and effect relationship, it would have a huge public health
implication if vitamin D supplementation could be shown to improve
cognitive performance over time because deficiency is so common in the
Wilson and colleagues were interested in the
association between vitamin D levels and cognitive function over time in
older adults. They used data from the Health, Aging and Body composition
(Health ABC) study to look at the relationship.
The researchers looked at 2,777 well-functioning
seniors aged 70 to 79 whose cognitive function was measured at the
study's onset and again four years later. Vitamin D levels were measured
at the 12-month follow-up visit.
The Health ABC study cohort consists of 3,075
Medicare-eligible, white and black, well-functioning, community-dwelling
older adults who were recruited between April 1997 and June 1998 from
Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn.
"With just the baseline observational data, you
can't conclude that low vitamin D causes cognitive decline. When we
looked four years down the road, low vitamin D was associated with worse
cognitive performance on one of the two cognitive tests used," Wilson
said. "It is interesting that there is this association and ultimately
the next question is whether or not supplementing vitamin D would
improve cognitive function over time."
Wilson said randomized, controlled trials are
needed to determine whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent
cognitive decline and definitively establish a causal relationship.
"Doctors need this information to make
well-supported recommendations to their patients," Wilson said.
"Further research is also needed to evaluate
whether specific cognitive domains, such as memory versus concentration,
are especially sensitive to low vitamin D levels."
The research is supported in part by the Intramural
Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National
Institute on Aging and NIA Contracts N01-AG-6, N01-AG-6, and N01-AG-6
NIA Grants R01 AG028050 and R01 AG029364; and National Institute of
Nursing Research Grant R01 NR012459.
Co-authors included Laurel Kilpatrick, M.D.,
University of Alabama at Birmingham; Kristine Yaffe, M.D., and Hilsa N.
Ayonayon, Ph.D., both of University of California at San Francisco,;Jane
A. Cauley, Dr.PH., University of Pittsburgh; Tamara B. Harris, M.D.,
M.S., and Eleanor M. Simonsick, Ph.D., both of the NIA; and James Lovato,
M.S., Stephen B. Kritchevsky, Ph.D., Denise K. Houston, Ph.D., and
Kaycee M. Sink, M.D., MAS, all of Wake Forest Baptist.
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