Health Team

Study shows vitamin D may boost memory in seniors

Posted August 7, 2014 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated August 7, 2014 6:16 p.m. EDT

Joannie Burstein Besser witnessed the devastation of Alzheimer's disease in her uncle Robert.

“To see him decline because of his memory has been painful, I know, for him and for all of us,” she said.

The 53-year old recently started taking vitamin D supplements hoping it will keep her mind sharp. A large new study finds seniors with lower levels of vitamin D have a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia and a nearly 70 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.

“Vitamin D receptors may help boost memory. It can also have an effect in reducing inflammation,” said Dr. Zaldy Tan, medical director at the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program.

The greatest source of vitamin D is sun exposure. It is also found in foods such as salmon, tuna and milk. Tan says the study isn't clear if low vitamin D levels actually cause cognitive loss, or vice versa.

“People with early memory problems (or) early undiagnosed Alzheimer's disease may be less likely to go out and be exposed to the sun,” Tan said.

The study also found the lower the levels of vitamin D, the higher the risk. Researchers say studies need to be done to see if taking vitamin D supplements or eating vitamin D-rich foods can delay or even prevent dementia.

With her family history, Burstein Besser makes sure to take long walks outside and eats a diet rich in vitamin D.

“I want to do whatever I can to stop it from happening because it's important for us to have our minds and our memories,” she said.