07/31/2013 05:25 pm ET

Dementia Causes: Could Anemia Be A Risk Factor?


Dementia symptoms can have many causes, making diagnosing dementia extremely difficult.

But anemia may be one sign that someone is at increased risk of dementia, according to a new study.

“Anemia is common in the elderly and occurs in up to 23 percent of adults ages 65 and older,” said study author Dr. Kristine Yaffe with the University of California -– San Francisco and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a press release. “The condition has also been linked in studies to an increased risk of early death.”

Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.

For the study, published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, 2,552 older adults between the ages of 70 and 79 were tested for anemia and also underwent memory and thinking tests over an 11-year period. Of those, 393 had anemia at the start of the study. At the end of the study, 445, or about 18 percent of participants, developed dementia.

The research found that those who had anemia at the start of the study had a nearly 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those who were not anemic. The link remained even after factoring in age, race, sex and education. Of the 393 people with anemia, 89 people, or 23 percent, developed dementia, compared to 366 of the 2,159 people who did not have anemia, or 17 percent.

“There are several explanations for why anemia may be linked to dementia. 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,” said Yaffe in a press release.

This isn't the first time anemia has been linked with dementia. Previous studies also have suggested that anemia is indeed a risk factor for dementia.



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