Both high and low levels of haemoglobin are linked to increased risk of developing dementia in old age, Dutch researchers reported last week.
The association between dementia and anaemia is particularly strong, according to the findings published in the journal Neurology.
Researchers began tracking more than 12,000 people at the age of 65, of which 6% had anaemia at the outset. During the course of the study, 1,520 people developed dementia over an average follow-up period of 12 years. Out of these, 1,194 had Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers at the Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, found that people with anaemia were 41% more likely than others to develop Alzheimer's disease and 34% more likely to develop any kind of dementia.
Conversely, those with haemoglobin levels in the highest quintile at the start of the study were 20% more likely to develop dementia than those with levels falling in the middle quintile.
The researchers say their findings show an association only, and do not prove that irregular haemoglobin levels cause dementia, nor do they pinpoint a common underlying factor.
Dr Arfan Ikram, who led the research, said: “With around 10% of people over age 65 having anaemia in the Americas and Europe and up to 45% in African and southeast Asian countries, these results could have important implications for the burden of dementia, especially as the prevalence of dementia is expected to increase threefold over the next decades, with the largest increases predicted in the countries where the anaemia rate is the highest.”
He added: “More research is needed to determine whether haemoglobin levels play a direct role in this increased risk or whether these associations can be explained by underlying issues or other vascular or metabolic changes.”
Source: Wolters, F.J., Zonneveld, H.I., Licher, S., Cremers, L.G.M. on behalf of the Heart Brain Connection Collaborative Research Group, Ikram, M.K., Koudstaal, P.J., Vernooij, M.W., Ikram, M.A. (2019) “Hemoglobin and anemia in relation to dementia risk and accompanying changes on brain MRI”, Neurology, available from doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000008003
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