Does Anemia Increase the Risk of Dementia?
According to a new study published in the journal Neurology, anemia, a condition characterized by low levels of red blood cells, may increase the risk of dementia in elderly people. Anemia is common in elderly people and can affect over a fifth of all adults over the age of 65. It has also been linked to an increased risk of early death. But, as The New York Times reporter Nicholas Bakalar reported, it may also be connected to an increased risk of dementia.
The researchers followed 2,552 mental healthy men and women with an average age of 76 over the course of 11 years. They recorded their red blood cell counts and data from mental functioning tests regularly. At the beginning, 392 of the subjects were anemic, but by the end 455 had developed the condition.
Even after adjusting for all other social and health variables, the researchers still found that those with anemia at the start of the study had an almost 50 percent higher risk of dementia than those with normal red blood cell levels.
The way the study was handled, especially the long follow-up and large sample size, give the study considerable strength. The authors also admit that their diagnoses of dementia may not have been as nuanced as those using structured clinical interviews.
“There are many causes of anemia that can be treated,” said the senior author, Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. “The big question is: If you get treated, do you have a downstream prevention of dementia? We don’t know, but that would be the implication.”