In many cases, a Vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by digestive problems that prohibit the body from properly absorbing the vitamin from foods. Diseases in the digestive system that contribute to such a deficiency include celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diseases of the pancreas and other autoimmune disorders like pernicious anemia. There are also some medications that hinder the absorption of B12. The elderly are more susceptible to developing this type of deficiency due to changes made to their diet, such as a decrease in the amount of food they eat. In fact, some studies suggest nearly one-fifth of those over 50 are low in this key nutrient.
Low levels of B12 in the body can cause cognitive decline due to the nerve cells located in the brain that are not functioning properly. The main symptom is irritability, but it can sometimes appear as dementia. For this reason, vitamin B deficiency is often missed as a contributing factor.
Since a deficiency causes the nerves in the body to malfunction or work incorrectly, neuropathy can set in. This can cause poor balance, numbness, walking difficulties or a burning sensation. A B12 deficiency can also contribute to anemia, which means the red blood count is low. Red blood cells work to carry oxygen through the blood. When there are not enough red blood cells carrying oxygen, a person can feel fatigued or short of breath.
A vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the fastest growing senior health issues today. For this reason, many health professionals suggest individuals over 50 take a supplement of the vitamin for prevention. B12 is found in some foods, which seniors are encouraged to consume on a regular basis. Foods containing substantial amounts of B12 or those fortified with the nutrient include:
When a senior has any type of preexisting condition that hinders the absorption of B12, it is suggested to take a supplement along with a monthly injection.
Many facilities providing senior care services monitor residents for signs of B12 deficiencies. If you notice your loved one displaying certain symptoms, it is a good idea to have them checked by a physician. Some symptoms include:
If your parent has eaten a primarily vegetarian diet or if they have problems with their intestines, stomach or pancreas, they should have their B12 levels checked periodically. It is also a good idea to check B12 levels if your loved one has been on medications for reducing stomach acid for any amount of time.