Anemic people are at higher risk of suffering from dementia in old age, researchers have found.
According to the findings of a new study, people with anemia, a condition marked by lower number of red blood cells, are more likely to suffer from cognitive decline over the years than people who are not anemic.
For the purpose of the study, researchers followed 2,500 U.S. adults in their 70s for over a decade.
While none of the participants suffered from dementia at the start of the study, 393 participants were anemic.
During the study span, all participants were tested for anemia and took memory and thinking tests to check for dementia.
By the end of the study, 445, or about 18 percent of participants were diagnosed with dementia.
Of the anemic patients 89 people (23 percent) developed dementia, compared to 366 (17 percent) of those who weren’t anemic.
People who started with anemia were 60 percent more likely to develop dementia by the end of the study, researchers highlighted.
“We found a 60 percent increased risk of dementia with anemia. After controlling for other factors such as other medical illness, demographics, etcetera, the risk remained elevated 40 to 50 percent,” study’s lead author, Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco said.
“Given how common both anemia and dementia are in older adults, more attention to the connection between the two is important, and I do think screening older adults for anemia makes sense,” said Yaffe.
How anemia causes dementia
Researchers speculate various reasons for why anemia may be linked with dementia.
“We think the association is about low oxygen being carried to the brain,” Yaffe said. As red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, anemic individuals will transmit lower oxygen, leading to lesser oxygen being delivered to brain cells, she explained
Chronic anemia may contribute to damage neurons, reducing memory and thinking abilities.
Also, anemia is a marker for overall poor health. Thus, anemic individuals are more likely to be iron deficient and malnourished, impairing overall health.
The findings of the study are published online July 31 in Neurology.