Study Links Anemia to Increased Risk of Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Is your loved one feeling excessively tired? One culprit for this situation can be anemia. And if that’s so, your loved one may be at increased risk of developing dementia.

    A longitudinal study  that has just been released found significant association between dementia and anemia. That’s important because slightly more than one in five American seniors has anemia, which is a condition caused by having a low number of red blood cells. These cells are responsibly for carrying oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues.

    The study involved 2,552 participants who were, on average, 75 years of age when they enrolled in the research effort in 1997. The participants did not have dementia when they started the study. The participants were part of a large study on senior health known as the Health ABC Study. This research involved periodic tests of mental functioning as well as levels of red blood cells.

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    The researchers found that participants who were diagnosed with anemia during the study had a 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia. Furthermore, participants who had anemia when they entered the study had a 49 percent increased risk of dementia compared to participants who didn’t have anemia when the study started.

    The researchers did not delve into the physiological reasons why anemia increases dementia risk, although they hypothesize that the association is caused by low oxygen amounts being carried by red blood cell levels to the brain.
    This condition is common in older adults, although researchers believe it is not caused by normal aging. There are many potential causes for anemia, some of which can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medications.


    So what can cause anemia? reports that anemia in older people is often caused by having more than one condition at the same time. These conditions can include:

    • A decrease in red blood cell production that is caused by: problems with bone marrow function; chronic diseases; chronic inflammation; hormone issues; kidney disease; malnutrition; dietary deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid; hereditary disorders; medications; or alcohol dependency.
    • Loss of blood from: stomach irritation caused by medications, alcohol or ulcers; polyps or tumors located in the bowels; kidney stones or tumors; cancers; or surgeries.
    • Increased destruction of the red blood cells that is caused by: medications; a hereditary disorder; a disease that affects the immune system; heart valve issues; tumor; and infections.

    In addition, there are four types of anemia:

    • Iron-deficiency anemia. This type of anemia is caused when the iron levels in the body are too low.
    • Anemia of chronic disease. This anemia can be caused by chronic inflammation caused by ongoing infections, tissue damage, some forms of arthritis, benign or malignant tumors, and some chronic medical conditions.
    • Pernicious anemia.  This type of anemia occurs when a person does not have enough vitamin B12 or folate.
    • Hemolytic anemia. This type of anemia occurs when the body’s red blood cells are destroyed by disease.

    Symptoms of anemia can include fatigue, weakness, being short of breath, dizziness, pale skin color, feeling cold, and behavior changes including confusion, agitation, depression or lack of interest.

  • Treatment for anemia depends on the type an elder has. This can include raising vitamin or iron levels through changing the diet or taking vitamin or iron supplements such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin C and folic acid.  Foods that are good sources of iron, which is used to make hemoglobin, include red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, shellfish, spinach, dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, peas, lentils, white beans, re d beans, baked beans, soybeans, chickpeas, dried fruits, prune juice, and iron –fortified cereals and breads. Foods that are good sources of vitamin B12 include breakfast cereals with this vitamin added, meats, eggs, dairy products, and fortified foods. Folic acid can be found in beef liver, eggs, black eyed peas, dried beans, spinach, dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, oranges, orange juice, and bread, pasta and rice that have folic acid added. Vitamin C can be found in vegetables, fruits (especially citrus fruits), kiwi fruit, strawberries, cantaloupes, broccoli, peppers, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, turnip greens and spinach.

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    Medications are another way that anemia is treated. Particularly severe cases may require a blood transfusion or blood and marrow stem cell transplants.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost: Anemia.


    MedlinePlus. (nd). Anemia.

    MedlinePlus. (2013). NLM director’s comments transcript: Anemia linked to dementia among seniors.

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2012). How is anemia treated?

Published On: September 26, 2013