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Anemia is very common across the world. Similarly, cognitive decline is an unfortunate but common occurrence among older individuals. Now comes a study that links anemia as a risk factor for the impaired executive function in the elderly. This was reported in the September issue of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Dr. Chaves and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland studied 364 high-functioning older women. Only 30 of these had anemia, i.e. hemoglobin level less than 12 g/dl. The average age of the patients was 74 years. They were all in good physical shape. Multiple tests were conducted to test executive function. Scores were adjusted for age, education, race and disease status etc.
These investigators found that elderly patients with anemia were four to five times more likely to perform poorly on executive function tests compared with those with normal hemoglobin concentration.
Whether it is a mere association or that anemia actually leads to decline of executive function remains unknown. Anemia could potentially cause a reduced oxygenation of brain via reduced oxygen carrying capacity of blood, thus leading to cognitive decline. It is also possible that this is an association reflecting degeneration of brain tissues due to decreased oxygenation.
Of note that this study was conducted in elderly women. Whether these results apply to younger subjects and males also remains to be established. Also, be advised that the normal values for hemoglobin are different for men and women.
Bottomline: Anemia affects the whole body, not just physically but perhaps also mentally.