Information for Michigan Caregivers: Can Anemia Cause Alzheimer’s?



Can Routine Blood Tests for Anemia Help Detect Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Some researchers believe the answer to this question might be, “Yes.”

An article published in Neurology  shared results from a study at University of California San Francisco. The study revealed that after other risk factors are controlled, anemia increased the risk for Alzheimer’s between 40% and 50% in the 2500 participants. This is important information for Michigan caregivers and physicians because an estimated 23% of older adults are anemic.


Here are the highlights of this study: 

  • The 2500 people in the study were followed for 11 years. During this time they were routinely screened for anemia and given memory and thinking tests.
  • 400 participants were anemic at the beginning of the study.
  • People who live with anemia have lower amounts of oxygen reaching their brain because they have fewer red blood cells.
  • Over the course of the study 18% of the participants, 455 in total, developed dementia.
  • Of the participants who were diagnosed with anemia at the start of the study, 23% developed dementia. That is in contrast with 17% of those who were not anemic.
  • After researchers excluded other medical conditions and contributing factors, they determined that participants with anemia had 41% higher risk for developing anemia than those without it.

Researchers caution that this isn’t yet proof positive that anemia is a cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but they do believe there is a causal relationship between the two. They will continue to explore the relationship including the role intervention can play in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Ways to Prevent Anemia in a Senior Loved One

If you are a Michigan caregiver for an aging loved one, this study might make you concerned for their cognitive well-being. Especially if you know that, like many seniors, they don’t always eat a well-balanced diet. So what should you do?

First, check with your loved one or their primary care physician to see if they have already had a blood test to screen for anemia. This may have been done as part of their yearly physical. If not, it is best to talk with the physician to see if it can be done.

Next, if the blood test shows that they are indeed anemic, work with their primary care physician on a plan to treat it. They may recommend iron supplements and/or a visit with a nutritionist. More and more primary care physician offices have relationships with nutritionists as part of their wellness model.

We will continue to share updated results from this study and others like it on our blog so be sure to subscribe and follow along.