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Does Vitamin D Influence Memory Loss and Dementia?

Written by Amanda Lundberg
 about the author
8 minute readLast updated June 27, 2023

If you’re worried about the brain health of someone close to you, you might have started investigating the relationship between vitamin D and dementia. It’s a topic attracting attention, not just in medical circles but among families affected by memory loss and cognitive issues. Let’s delve into this intriguing topic to offer some clarity and support.

Key Takeaways

  1. Research suggests a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of dementia in seniors. This is based on numerous studies showing higher dementia rates among seniors with low vitamin D levels.
  2. Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels can support overall health, including brain health. Adequate vitamin D may help enhance cognitive function and slow memory loss.
  3. Regular check-ups, a balanced diet, and certain lifestyle changes can help seniors maintain healthy vitamin D levels. This approach not only safeguards against dementia but also promotes overall well-being.
  4. Various factors, like decreased sun exposure and poor dietary intake, can lead to vitamin D deficiency in seniors. Addressing these issues can help ensure optimal vitamin D levels and potentially decrease dementia risk.

The potential benefits of vitamin D

We often associate vitamin D with bone health, and rightly so. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, vitamin D plays a significant role in helping our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus, key nutrients for maintaining strong bones. Seniors with a deficiency in this nutrient face a higher risk of falls and fractures.[01]
Not to be forgotten is the possible role of vitamin D in brain health. A growing body of research suggests a connection between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Emerging research suggests a potentially significant correlation between vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Numerous studies have found that lower levels of vitamin D could be associated with an increased risk of these cognitive health issues.
The hypothesis behind this association is that vitamin D plays a role in supporting various brain functions, and its deficiency might contribute to cognitive decline. However, the connection is not definitively proven, and research is ongoing to understand this complex relationship better.[02]
While it’s unclear if improper or deficient vitamin D levels can directly cause cognitive health issues such as dementia, lower vitamin D levels have been observed in people with cognitive impairments. It remains to be determined if the deficiency is a cause or a result of the condition.
Similarly, while maintaining proper levels of vitamin D is essential for overall health, there is currently no concrete evidence to suggest that it can definitively prevent dementia. The role of vitamin D in dementia prevention is an active area of research, and while some studies indicate a potential protective effect, more research is needed to establish causation.[02]
It is clear that vitamin D has a role in brain health, but the extent to which it impacts specific aspects of cognitive function, such as memory, requires further investigation. It is always advisable to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including adequate vitamin D levels, to support overall health and cognitive function.

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What does the research say about vitamin D and dementia?

Many families ask, “Can vitamin D deficiency cause memory loss?” The answer is not as clear-cut as we’d like it to be, as research is ongoing. However, many studies suggest a link between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of dementia.
For example, a noteworthy study published in Neurology involved over 1,500 seniors without dementia. In this group, researchers monitored serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (a form of vitamin D) levels and found that more than 270 patients developed Alzheimer’s disease or dementia after five to six years. The data indicated that seniors deficient in vitamin D had a higher risk of developing these conditions — 51% more likely, in fact. Those with severe deficiency had an even greater risk at 122%.
A comprehensive analysis of multiple studies involving more than 21,000 patients by BMC Neurology also revealed an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia among those with low vitamin D levels. The study showed those with vitamin D deficiency are of higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease than other types of dementia. Seniors who had moderate vitamin D deficiency were 20% more likely to develop dementia and 36% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. A severe deficiency meant a person was 51% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
While these studies suggest a link, the definitive role of vitamin D in dementia is yet to be confirmed. Nonetheless, maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels can positively impact overall health, including brain health.

Why might seniors be deficient in vitamin D?

There are numerous reasons why seniors become deficient in vitamin D, which are explained below.
  • Changes in skin absorption: As we grow older, our bodies undergo a multitude of changes, and one of these changes is how our skin functions. With age, our skin’s ability to synthesize and absorb vitamin D from sunlight can significantly diminish.
  • Limited outdoor activities: Many seniors do not spend as much time outdoors as they did when they were younger. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, so reduced exposure can negatively impact the body’s vitamin D levels.
  • Nutritional intake: Vitamin D can be derived from certain foods, but the seniors’ dietary needs are often not met. Whether due to appetite changes, dietary restrictions, or difficulties with food preparation, seniors might not consume enough vitamin D-rich foods.
  • Reduced kidney function: With age, the kidneys’ efficiency in converting vitamin D to its active form decreases, leading to lower levels of the nutrient.
  • Medication interference: Certain medications common among seniors, like some cholesterol-lowering drugs, can interfere with how the body absorbs or processes vitamin D.
  • Digestive disorders: Seniors with conditions like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease might struggle to absorb vitamin D properly, leading to a deficiency.
  • Obesity: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. In people with obesity, the vitamin can be excessively stored in fat tissues, reducing its availability in the bloodstream.[03]
Vitamin D plays a central role in our overall health, and lacking this essential nutrient can potentially instigate or exacerbate a wide range of health conditions including those listed below.
  • Osteoporosis: Lack of vitamin D can contribute to decreased bone density, increasing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Cancer: Some research suggests that vitamin D deficiency could be linked with higher risks of certain types of cancer.
  • Cardiovascular disease:Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to higher susceptibility to cardiovascular issues like heart disease and hypertension.
  • Depression: Emerging research suggests a potential connection between low vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in older adults.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Some evidence suggests that low levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease of the nervous system.
  • Type 2 diabetes: There seems to be an association between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight loss: Inadequate vitamin D levels may also be connected to unintentional weight loss, a common issue among the elderly population.[03]
By recognizing these risk factors, you can take preventative measures to ensure your loved ones maintain their vitamin D levels, supporting their overall health and well-being.

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How can you boost vitamin D levels to lower dementia risk?

How can you ensure that your loved one is getting enough vitamin D? Consider some of the following strategies:
  • Serve vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish (think trout, salmon, and tuna).
  • Incorporate fish liver oil into their diet.
  • Encourage regular exposure to sunlight.
  • Suggest they use a UV lamp.
  • Include vitamin D-fortified milk and white mushrooms in their meals.[03]
Additionally, vitamin D supplements may be considered after discussing it with a health care provider. Remember, while it’s important to maintain sufficient vitamin D levels, excess intake can also have negative effects, and some dietary supplements can interact with certain medications.

Speaking with a doctor about vitamin D deficiency and dementia

While we can’t definitively say that a vitamin D deficiency directly leads to dementia or memory loss, we do know that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D plays a key role in promoting overall health. This could potentially support brain health, too. Your concern for your loved one’s health is commendable, and taking steps to maintain healthy vitamin D levels is a great way to provide for their well-being.
Regular check-ups are important for keeping track of your loved one’s vitamin D levels. If you have concerns about their intake of vitamin D or their overall health, consider bringing up these issues with their doctor.
Should you find yourself struggling to meet their nutritional and other needs, it might be time to explore senior living options such as memory care. Speaking with a Senior Care Advisor could provide valuable insights into available services best suited for your loved one’s needs.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 12). Facts About Falls.

  2. Maryam Ghahremani, Eric E. Smith, Hung-Yu Chen, Byron Creese, Zahra Goodarzi, Zahinoor Ismail. (2023, March 1). Vitamin D supplementation and incident dementia: Effects of sex, APOE, and baseline cognitive status.Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

  3. National Institutes of Health. (2022, August 12). Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.Office of Dietary Supplements.

Meet the Author
Amanda Lundberg

Amanda Lundberg, RN, has over 10 years’ experience in clinical settings, working extensively with seniors and focusing on wellness and preventative care.

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