Anemia in Seniors
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Anemia in Seniors

Anemia, defined simply, is when the number of red cells in someone’s blood, or the amount of hemoglobin in their red cells, is lower than it should be. It can occur for a number of reasons, such as loss of blood, insufficient or faulty production of red blood cells, or the loss and destruction of red cells. The condition is easily diagnosed with a simple blood test.

In seniors, anemia can be caused by a laundry list of reasons. Chronic disease, iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, bleeding, and more. While you may assume that anemia isn’t a very serious issue, the trust is that seniors suffering from anemia are more likely to experience loss of physical ability, functional decline, hospitalization, and loss of independence than seniors who are free from the condition. Even borderline anemia can contribute to negative health outcomes, so it is vital for seniors and their loved ones to understand the signs and symptoms, as well as ways to prevent and protect against the development of anemia in the first place.

Many older people, when noticing they may feel more tired or weaker than they usually feel, often attribute it to the general effects of increasing in age. Sometimes this assumption is correct, but many of the so-called “common symptoms” of old age, such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness, irritability, pale skin, or shortness of breath can all actually be signposts pointing to a more serious, and often treatable, illness or condition. A healthcare practitioner should always evaluate you in the event you experience these symptoms frequently, or for prolonged periods of time.

Anemia can be acute, developing suddenly and severely, or chronic, developing over a long period of time. The type of onset can help to determine the cause of the anemia, as well as the course of treatment that will have the most effectiveness. And even if the cause of anemia can’t be clearly determined, the condition can often still be treated with positive results.

Approximately 10 percent of seniors over the age of 65 in America are anemic. Most commonly this is caused by chronic diseases, such as ulcers, liver or kidney problems, hypothyroidism, inflammation of the digestive tract, or cancer, and also by iron deficiency. Certain medications can also contribute to anemia. As older adults frequently take multiple different medications each day, these prescriptions can have a negative synergistic effect and cause side effects to cause more of an impact on the body. 

Anemia due to nutritional deficiencies are less common among the elderly, but they can fortunately be easily identified and treated. Addressing nutritional issues can make an enormous difference in the way a senior feels and can help prevent the loss of physical abilities vital for maintaining independence.

Low iron is the most well known cause of anemia, but typically affects younger people. In the elderly, it usually occurs due to limited iron absorption in the intestines, or because of bleeding in the GI tract. This can be corrected with the prescription of iron supplements, and it is vital to follow the provider’s instructions for use.