Anemia, or a low red blood cell count, is associated with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment, a form of memory loss that often precedes Alzheimer’s disease. The findings are important because effective treatments for many forms of anemia are available, and such treatments may help to reverse the memory problems associated with mild cognitive impairment.
For the study, European researchers looked at more than 4,000 older Germans who were representative of the general population. They ranged in age from 50 to 80. Participants underwent medical exams from 2000 to 2003, then again five years later.
The researchers compared those with anemia to age-matched peers without the condition. They defined anemia as having a hemoglobin (the compound in red blood cells that carries oxygen) count of less than 13 grams per deciliter of blood in men and less than 12 grams per deciliter in women.
For the study, mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, was defined as having a decline in memory and thinking skills over the previous two years and low scores on tests of cognition, though not as severe as that seen with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. People with MCI can typically carry out tasks of everyday living and other complex chores.
The researchers found that older men and women with anemia were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment than those who were not anemic.
In addition to memory problems, people with anemia also were more likely to have heart disease and related problems. But the researchers controlled for these diseases and still found that anemia was tied to an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment. The findings appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Our results suggest that anemia is associated with an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors,” the authors write. “The association of anemia and MCI has important clinical relevance, because many causes of anemia can be treated effectively.”
The results suggest that anemia should be considered in anyone suffering from mild cognitive impairment. If anemia is found, treatments are often readily available to treat the condition, and perhaps reverse the memory loss.
By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.
Source: Dlugaj, Martha; Winkler, Angela; Weimar, Christian; et al: “Anemia and Mild Cognitive Impairment in the German General Population. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, December 2015