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J Nutr Elder. 2005;25(1):7-19.

Vitamin D deficiency in community older adults with falls of gait imbalance: an under-recognized problem in the inner city.

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  • 1New York Medical College, USA.



Recent reports suggest that vitamin D deficiency is both under-recognized and undertreated in the geriatric population. In particular, older adults with unexplained pain, falls, and gait disorders often may have osteomalacia from vitamin D deficiency. Currently, older adults are not screened for vitamin D status even when clinical skin suggest deficiency. Our pilot study determined the vitamin D status in older, inner city community adults with features suggestive of vitamin D deficiency.


The study was prospective and observational. Community-dwelling adults (> 60 years) from our ambulatory clinic or in-patient geriatric program, with features compatible with vitamin D deficiency (history of falls, gait imbalance, unexplained musculoskeletal pain, and/or fractures), were enrolled. IRB approval and signed informed consents were obtained. Following a history and physical exam, blood samples for vitamin D assay and routine chemistries were obtained. Additional information was collected on age, gender, race, dairy product intake, calcium and/or vitamin D supplement use, weekly sunlight exposure, season of exam (May-October vs. November-April), prior falls and fractures, musculoskeletal pain, and gait disturbances.


Data were obtained from 48 patients (32F and 16M), mean age of 79 +/- 9 (SD) years (range 60-95). Seventy-seven percent of enrollees had gait disturbances, 77% had a history of falls, 29% had previous fractures and 6% had unexplained pain; 79% consumed milk daily, 25% took calcium supplements and 21% used vitamin D supplements (in a multivitamin or calcium supplement). Self-reported weekly exposure to sunlight ranged from 0 to 42 hours (clothing amount was highly variable). Fifty-four percent of this sample had sub-normal vitamin D status (serum vitamin D < 20 ng/mL). Patient age (P = 0.2287), gender (P=0.9270), exposure to sunlight (P=0.3493), season (P=0.573), and dairy intake (P = 0.735) were not associated with vitamin D status. However, 80% of vitamin D supplement users versus 37% of non-users had normal vitamin D status (P = 0.029) and 75% of calcium supplement users versus 36% of non-users had normal vitamin D status (P = 0.042). A logistic regression model determined that the use of vitamin D or calcium supplements decreased the risk of low vitamin D status by 94% and 93% (P = 0.009 and P = 0.010, respectively).


In this pilot study of older adults with gait imbalance and falls, vitamin D deficiency (< 20 ng/mL) was observed in 54% of patients tested and previously unrecognized. Higher serum vitamin D levels appeared related to the use of vitamin D (in multivitamin or calcium supplements) suggesting that deficiency may be preventable and easily treated. As vitamin D deficiency is associated with substantial disability, the need for increased awareness to screen and prevent this disorder is evident.

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