Let’s talk about a subject close to my heart as my aging mother has suffered from it, anemia. An on line article published by Duke university sugested that as many as 13 percent of individuals over the age of 70 are anemic. This means that they
have a hemoglobin concentration below 12g/dL in women and below 13 g/dL in men. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cellsm that gives it its color.
Anemia in older individuals is often atributed to diseases like cancer, heart failure and kidney disease. But, up to 35 % of cases are not due to illness. There are several common causes of anemia some of which are iron deficiency, a lack of folate, (folic acid), or a lack of vitamin B-12. Iron deficiency may be dietary or your body may be losing blood, some common causes of which are suffering from an ulcer, a colon polyp or taking aspirin regularly. If you suffer from a folate or vitamin B-12 deficiency, both of which help produce red blood cells, it could be a diatary lack or an inability to absorb these nutrients properly.
The Duke article points to a study on women’s health and aging published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Here it is suggests that anemia impacts what is called executive functioning in women in their 70’s and 80’s. Executive funcitoning is the ability to solve problems, plan, and follow through on on decisions and with activities. The study concluded that anemic women were four to five times more likely to score poorly on tests measuring executive functioning even when age, education level and disease were controlled.
Another study, published in in the Journal of Gerontology, found that people 71 and older who suffered from anemia were more likely to die, be hospitalized or spend more time in the hospital than a healthy control group at a four-year follow-up. While it is uncertain wether anemia causese mental and physical decline or if it’s a by product of disease or the aging process, it should still be watched for.
The symptoms of anemia are a followes: feeling weak or tired, experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, cold or numb extremities and headaches as well as pale skin and cognitive difficulties. In anemia these are due to low levels of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout your body. Low hemoglobin levels can be detected with a blood test. Often treatment for this ailment is as simple as eating more iron rich foods, boosting your folate and B-12 consumption or taking sumpliments. But, other, more serious, causes of anemia should be rulled out with tests.
In the Duke University article Dr. Robin Ali, (MD, Pharm D), a Geriatric Medicine Fellow, says, "Even though routine screening of older adults for anemia is not recommended, it’s important for a health care provider to evaluate an older person for anemia if he or she complains of weakness, fatigue or shortness of breath with exertion, or experiences cognitive difficulty.
"If you have a condition associated with blood loss such as a kidney disorder or a hematological disorder, of course your physician will already be evaluating you for anemia. Most otherwise healthy people should be able to get the iron they need by eating a balanced diet.
"But if you are at all concerned about your iron intake, talk to your physician. He or she can recommend iron-rich foods and discuss whether or not you need a iron supplement. Although anemia is a common occurrence in the elderly, it should not be considered a ‘normal’ part of aging."
Sharon Grant, BA, SAC, Media Pil Cert, PhD.