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  • Writer's pictureSean Smith

Potassium Concerns in the Elderly

Having sufficient nutrients in the body is a general goal for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily take great effort to achieve this goal. If you simply follow a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, you should be healthy. However, taking medication, genetics, and age can cause you to become vitamin or mineral deficient. Potassium is one such mineral that the elderly or those individuals who care for them should be aware.

Potassium is a mineral that, in combination with sodium and calcium, maintains normal heart rhythm, regulates the body’s water balance, and is responsible for the conduction of nerve impulses and the contraction of muscles. The body of an average-sized person contains about 5 ounces (140 g) of potassium. Blood levels of the mineral are controlled by the kidneys, which eliminate any excess in the urine.

Potassium deficiency is rare because almost all foods contain potassium. The best sources of potassium include lean meat, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, beans, and many fruits (especially bananas and oranges). A diet that includes these foods is sufficient for obtaining adequate amounts of potassium.

Since potassium sources are so abundant, for most people potassium deficiency is not a concern. The elderly, however, are at a greater risk for potassium deficiency. The main reason the elderly should be concerned about sufficient deficiency is because their kidneys and other organs tend not to function as well. This results in the system not being able to absorb and regulate the amount of potassium in the body.

In addition, medications prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure are less effective with elderly. High blood pressure can lead to serious health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. So, the elderly who are prescribed blood pressure reducing medications with little success may want to discuss potassium supplementation with their doctor.

The main symptoms of potassium deficiency are irregular heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, muscle weakness and abnormal skin sensations, such as numbness. To detect potassium deficiency a doctor tests the patient’s blood levels for the presence of potassium. If less than 5.6 grams of potassium are present the individual is determined to have a potassium deficiency.

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