March 1, 2013
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. Most people that have a proper diet obtain an adequate amount of potassium however in the case of the elderly there are other issues.
The elderly are at a higher risk for potassium deficiency because their kidneys and other organs have a tendency to not function as well. This may result in the body not being able to absorb and properly regulate the amount of potassium.
The main symptoms of potassium deficiency are an irregular heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, muscle weakness, and abnormal skin sensations such as numbness. The potassium level is obtained through a blood test. Levels less than 5.6 grams of potassium are considered to be a deficiency.
Treatment of a potassium deficiency in the elderly should be done under the care of a physician. In severe cases of potassium deficiency the heart beat of the patient must be monitored constantly under the supervision of a medical expert. The doctor may prescribe intravenous potassium supplements.
Maintaining proper potassium levels is done by following a healthy lifestyle and consuming a diet that is rich in potassium. Major food sources of potassium are bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, milk and fig, etc. For elderly persons taking diuretics it is even more critical that they follow a high potassium diet.