A new study published today by the American Academy of Neurology finds that low levels of red blood cells, or anemia, might increase one's chances of developing dementia by nearly 41 percent. Dementia, often used to describe the loss of memory, is actually a blanket term to categorize a group of symptoms affecting a person's cognitive abilities — Alzheimer's being the most common form of dementia.
"Anemia is common in the elderly and occurs in up to 23 percent of adults ages 65 and older," said study author Kristine Yaffe, M.D., member of the American Academy of Neurology. "The condition has also been linked in studies to an increased risk of early death."
The study was conducted over an 11-year period with 2,552 older adults between the ages of 70 and 79, who were tested for anemia and also underwent memory and thinking tests. The researchers found that 18 percent (445 participants) developed dementia, though 393 of those participants already had anemia when the study started.
"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.
The Alzheimer's Association recognizes 10 different types of dementia:
1. Alzheimer's Disease
This accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. The greatest factor for Alzheimer's is age, but five percent of people in American have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, which affects people as young as 40. At this time, there is no cure for this disease, but there are a few drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help treat the symptoms of the disease.
2. Vascular Dementia
Also known as post-stroke dementia, this form of dementia occurs after a person suffers from a stroke and is the second most common type of dementia. When blood flow is inadequate or interrupted to certain parts of the body, the aftereffects can be permanent. And when someone suffers from a stroke, the lack of blood flowing through the brain can impair his or her cognitive functions tremendously.
3. Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB)
According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stoke, this type of dementia is one of the most common forms of progressive dementia. One symptom that separates DLB from other types of dementia is that its sufferers not only have memory loss but also show signs of Parkinson's disease motor symptoms, and have recurrent visual hallucinations. Depression is also a very common side effect.
4. Mixed Dementia
The name of this form speaks for itself; this type of dementia is when a person might show signs for three of the most common forms of dementia: Alzheimer's, vascular, and DLB.
5. Parkinson's Disease
Actor Michael J. Fox brought this disease into the spotlight when he was diagnosed with it in 1991. As Parkinson's progresses, not only is memory loss and a lack in mental functions present, but a person's physical ability to perform day-to-day functions is also hindered. Shaky hands and muffled speech are common symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
6. Frontotemporal Dementia
A person's frontal lobe is what allows an individual to recognize consequences of certain actions and understand the difference between right and wrong. The temporal lobe functions to retain visual memories, understand language, store memories, and feel emotions. When these two are damaged due to dementia, a person's personality might change. Sufferers often exhibit symptoms of depression, being "tongue-tied," and impaired language skills. There are no current FDA drugs that are prescribed to help treat or reverse the effects, but prescription medicines are used to treat the symptoms.
7. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)
CJD is a degenerative neurological disorder. The brain develops holes and eventually becomes sponge-like due an infection by a protein called a prion. CJD affects approximately one million people worldwide and can be caused by a number of things — genetics, meat, or other products from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease).
8. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)
This form of dementia often affects people in their sixties and seventies and can hinder the way a person thinks and reasons. It can also physically affect someone's walking and bladder control abilities. Symptoms of NPH are also common in other types of brain disorders so it's difficult to diagnose at first.
9. Huntington's Disease
This is a progressive brain disorder that is caused by a single defective gene. According to ALZ, this defect is "dominant," meaning that anyone who inherits it from a parent with Huntington's will eventually develop the disease. Huntington's disease has no age range or limit; children as young as two years old have been affected by this disease. Impairments include muscle weakness, echolalia (repeating statements), the inability to speak, and many others.
10. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Wernicke's encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome are two different conditions that are both affected by thiamine deficiency. According to the National Institute of Health, a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine) is common in people with alcoholism and people who can't absorb their food properly. Wernicke's encephalopathy causes confusion, abnormal eye movements, and double vision to name a few. Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome are mental: the Inability to form new memories, loss of memory, making up stories, and even symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can occur.
In the end, being able to spot the warning signs for many forms of dementia might be key to preventing these diseases from progressing — even if there aren't any hard cures. By detecting dementia earlier and easing the symptoms, individuals can perhaps lower the risk of developing anemia too.
Source: Yaffe K. Anemia Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia. American Academy of Neurology. 2013.