Depression, Sunlight and Vitamin D in the Elderly

Depression, Sunlight and Vitamin D in the Elderly

By: Marc Sorenson, Sunlight Institute–


Research from Belgium has shown that there is a high rate vitamin D deficiency in elderly nursing-home residents. In fact, almost every resident was deficient.[1] Also, the research showed that as vitamin D deficiency was compared with the likelihood of depression among those residents, there was a consistent tendency toward increasing depressive symptoms with increasing D deficiency. In other words, those who were most D deficient were most likely to be depressed.

This research simply confirms the results of other investigations, most notably a study showing that Those whose vitamin D levels were deficient—defined as less than 20 ng/ml—had 11.7 times the incidence of depression when compared to those whose vitamin D levels were higher.[2]  Usually an association is considered impressive when a measured factor correlates to a 50% increase or decrease.  In this case, the correlation between vitamin D deficiency and risk of depression was a staggering 1,169 percent! Still other related research showed that elderly persons whose serum vitamin D levels were in the deficient category had three-and-one-half times the risk of being admitted to a nursing home as those whose levels were in the highest category.[3]

Interestingly, the first phrase of the title of the research from Belgium was “Walk on the sunny side of life.” Ninety percent of the vitamin D in the serum of Americans is produced by the skin in response to sunlight exposure, so research like that mentioned above is really a measure of sunlight exposure and depression. Obviously, what these depressed elderly persons really need is to get out of the care facility and into the sunlight!



[1] Verhoeven V, Vanpuyenbroeck K, Lopez-Hartmann M, Wens J, Remmen R. Walk on the sunny side of life–epidemiology of hypovitaminosis D and mental health in elderly nursing home residents. J Nutr Health Aging 2012 Apr;16(4):417-20

[2] Wilkins C. et al.  Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Low Mood and Worse Cognitive Performance in Older Adults.  Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2006;14:1032–1040).

[3] Visser, M. et al.  Low serum vitamin concentrations of 25 hydroxyvitamin D in older persons and the risk of nursing home admission.  Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:616-22.


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