Residents of care homes across England are to be given a daily dose of vitamin D, the government has announced. Four-month supplies of the supplement are to be provided to support individuals’ health from later this month.
Each dose will contain ten micrograms (400 international units) of vitamin D to help bone and muscle health. Muscle weakness can contribute to the likeliness of having a fall, which is a common problem among the elderly.
As the majority of the vitamin D needed for the body to function properly comes from sunlight, it’s advisable to take a supplement during the winter months. Oily fish, liver and some fortified foods like fat spreads and breakfast cereals contain vitamin D, but not as much as the body requires.
The supplements being provided to care homes are the same as those that can be purchased from pharmacies and supermarkets. Some residents may already be taking vitamin D as it’s a sensible thing to do in old age as the elderly cannot synthesise as much of the nutrient as younger people.
With residents finding themselves indoors more because of restrictions due to the coronavirus, it makes it all the more important to ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D. Some experts have suggested that the nutrient could help the body fight against coronavirus, but there haven’t been enough studies to conclusively prove it.
Dr Richard Quinton, a consultant endocrinologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, told the Guardian: “Our view was that this treatment is so safe and the crisis is so enormous that we don’t have time to debate.”
Residents will be given the choice as to whether they wish to take the vitamin D doses, which will be given in liquid form. All cases where the nutrient is taken will be recorded in a similar way to other medication.
The government has also issued guidance to care homes so they can ascertain who can take the supplement and who shouldn’t. Families of residents with impaired cognition may wish to talk to staff about their relatives taking vitamin D daily.
On announcing the move, Downing Street said: “This year, the government will provide all nursing and residential care homes in England with a free four-month supply of vitamin D supplements as it is likely that care home residents will have stayed indoors more than usual over spring and summer last year as a result of the national restrictions for Covid-19.”