Anemia may put people at higher risk for dementia
EDT August 4, 2013 A new study finds a link between anemia among adults over 65 and their risk of dementia. Anemia makes older adults more vulnerable to dementia, a new study suggests. (Photo: BananaStock) Anemia is a blood disorder affecting nearly a quarter of adults over 65 Study underscores importance of warding off dementia with exercise and healthy eating Disorder is often treatable with supplements and change in diet SHARE 137 CONNECT 58 TWEET COMMENTEMAILMORE A large percentage of people over 65 have anemia, and new research suggests that the blood disorder may make them more vulnerable to dementia as they age. The study, from the University of California-San Francisco, found that people who were anemic at the start of the 11-year study period ran a 40% higher risk of developing dementia than those without it. Anemia, which may affect nearly a quarter of people over 65, occurs when their red blood cell count drops, or when red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin the protein that carries oxygen and gives the cells their distinctive color. Though previous research has suggested a link between anemia and problems on thinking tests, this is the first to find a long-term connection with dementia.
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Anemia linked to increased risk of dementia
Under normal circumstances, our bone marrow incorporates iron into the protein hemoglobin (Hgb), the major component of red blood cells. Normal Hgb ranges from 13 to 15 grams percent (gms%) for men and 12 to 14 for women. The mature red blood cell is released to perform its oxygen-carrying work throughout the body and, like all our cells, ages and dies after about three months. Its iron is reused by the bone marrow to make new blood cells. Anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells drops below normal. And since the daily loss of iron (the major component of hemoglobin) is minimal, except with menstruation, anemia should always be regarded as abnormal.
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Weve been interested in anemia because there have been links If the brain doesnt get enough oxygen, which can happen in anemia, we felt that might be something to look at in terms of risk of dementia, Yaffe said. Yaffe and her colleagues recruited 2,552 older adults between the ages of 70 and 79, testing each person for anemia. Within that group, 393 people (15.4 percent) were diagnosed as mildly anemic. Over the next 11 years, each of the study participants underwent a series of periodic memory and learning tests. Within the group that had been diagnosed with anemia, 23 percent developed dementia, as opposed to 17 percent of those who were not anemic. Overall, people diagnosed with anemia at the beginning of the study demonstrated a nearly 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those who were not anemic. We took into account a number of other things we thought could explain it; we adjusted for age, education, all kinds of other medical problems, Yaffe said.
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Older adults’ anemia linked to dementia risk
Fewer healthy red blood cells could mean less oxygen travelling to the brain and may result in cognitive decline, she said. Several conditions, including kidney disease and nutritional deficiencies, can cause anemia. Previous studies have found an association between anemia and dementia, but they had not followed anemic adults over time to see if they developed cognitive problems, as the current study did, Yaffe told Reuters Health. She and her coauthors used medical records to follow 2,552 people between the ages of 70 and 79 at the beginning of the study period. They were tested for anemia early in the study and given memory and thinking tests over a total of 11 years. At the start of the study, 393 participants had anemia. And at the end of the study, 445, or about 18 percent of participants, had developed dementia, based on records of their hospital visits, prescribed dementia medication use or a significant downward change on the memory and thinking tests.
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Anemia is a sign that the body is not producing enough red blood cells
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The link remained after considering other factors, such as age, race, sex and education. There are several explanations for why anemia may be linked to dementia, says Yaffe. 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 biggest caution in a study like this is over-interpreting it, says Dr. David Knopman, a neurology consultant at the Mayo Clinic (who served as the handling editor for the publication of this study). This study does not and was not intended to show a causality between anemia and dementia.
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