By Maggie Fox
Want to save health care dollars? Give vitamins to the elderly, a study published on Thursday suggests.
The study, done on behalf of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Wyeth Consumer Health by health care consultant The Lewin Group, finds that vitamins could improve overall health, making elderly people less likely to need drugs or hospital care.
"The Lewin Group study found that daily use of a multivitamin by older adults is a relatively inexpensive yet potentially powerful way to improve one's health," Lewin said in the report.
As people age, and especially after age 65, the immune system generally weakens, leaving them vulnerable to infections.
"The five-year estimate of potential savings (or cost offsets) resulting from improved immune functioning and a reduction in the relative risk of coronary artery disease through providing older adults with a daily multivitamin is approximately $1.6 billion," the report concludes.
"The five-year estimated cost offset associated with avoidable hospitalization for heart attacks is approximately $2.4 billion," it adds.
Over five years, the report concludes, it would cost $2.3 billion to provide a daily multivitamin to older adults in the United States. Tom Scully, Commissioner of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Health and Human Services Department, was scheduled to comment on the report later on Thursday.
The study was launched with the aim of finding an inexpensive way to save money in health care.
"Current sentiment among policymakers in health care favors prevention, making this study an important contribution to the discussion in multiple public arenas," the report said.
"Evidence from numerous sources indicates that a significant number of older adults fail to get the amounts and types of food necessary to meet essential energy and nutrient needs."
The group looked at a range of studies and reports to make its own findings. It studied the effects of taking vitamins on five diseases – coronary artery disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer.
"Additionally we examined literature concerning the effects of multivitamins on immune functioning in older adults and the potential health care savings that might result from avoiding the costly hospitalizations, nursing home stays, and home health services associated with pneumonia, cellulitis (a skin infection), kidney and urinary tract infections, and septicemia (a blood infection)," the report stated.
For instance, one 1998 study involving 80,000 nurses found a 24-percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks among women who took daily multivitamins.