Anemia in older people means higher dementia risk, study says

A study finds that low levels of red blood cells are linked to dementia in older people.
(Kari Rene Hall / Los Angeles Times)

Low levels of red blood cells can increase the risk of dementia for older people, scientists found in a study published Wednesday.

Anemia occurs in up to 23% of people 65 and older, and has been linked in other studies to an increased risk of early death, the latest study’s author, Dr. Kristine Yaffe of UC San Francisco, said.

Her study on its effects on dementia was published in the journal Neurology.


For the study, 2,552 people ages 70 to 79 were tested for anemia and dementia over 11 years; the participants were part of a study called the Health, Aging and Body Composition study and lived in Memphis, Tenn., or Pittsburgh.

Of the total, 393 people were anemic at the start of the study, and none had dementia. After 11 years, 445 people developed dementia.

People who were anemic at the start of the study had a 41% higher risk of developing dementia than those who were not. That remained constant even when researchers took into account age, race, gender and education.

There are several possible reasons for the link, Yaffe said. One is that anemia could be a marker for overall poor health; another is that the low oxygen levels resulting from anemia could be a factor.

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