Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia plague many seniors. Like most all diseases, a number of genetic and environmental factors play a role. Although genetic manipulation is on the horizon, most genetic factors cannot be controlled at present. Environmental factors are another matter—a number are under our control. “Anemia is common in the elderly and occurs in up to 23% of adults ages 65 and older,” notes one of the authors of a new study, Kristine Yaffe, MD, a University of California, San Francisco faculty member and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. She notes that anemia, or low levels of red blood cells, may increase the risk of dementia, according to the study published in the July 31 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study, 2,552 seniors between the ages of 70-79 were tested for anemia and also underwent memory and thinking tests over an 11 year period. Of those, 393 were anemic at the start of the study. At the end of the study, 445, or about 18% of participants, developed dementia. The investigators found that individuals who had anemia at the start of the study had a nearly 41% higher risk of developing dementia than those who were not anemic. The link remained after considering other factors, such as age, race, sex and education. Of the 393 people with anemia, 89 (23%) developed dementia, compared to 366 of the 2,159 (17%) who did not have anemia.
Dr. Yaffe explained, “There are several explanations for why anemia may be linked to dementia. For example, anemia may be a marker for poor health in general, or low oxygen levels resulting from anemia may play a role in the connection. Reductions in oxygen to the brain have been shown to reduce memory and thinking abilities and may contribute to damage to neurons.”
The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the American Health Assistance Foundation. To learn more about dementia, click on this link.
Take home message:
Anemia can cause numerous health problems, including heart attacks, stroke, and infection risk. One can be tested for anemia with a simple blood tests. In many cases, anemia can be resolved with an iron supplement. Other causes of anemia exist and, once diagnosed, many can be treated. A beautiful mind is a terrible thing to lose.