At the end of the four-year study, two-thirds of the participants had at least modest declines in physical performance scores, with 346 people (30 percent) having substantial decreases. Overall, those who did not have anemia averaged a 1.4 point decline on the 12-point scale during the study. In contrast, those who had borderline anemia dipped an average of 1.8 points and those with anemia dropped an average of 2.3 points on the 12-point scale.
Women with anemia showed the greatest physical decline followed by women who had borderline anemia. Also, men with anemia had significantly greater physical decline than men with normal blood hemoglobin levels. Men with borderline anemia were more likely to show physical decline than those whose hemoglobin levels were slightly higher than the WHO standard. Excluding people who had ailments associated with anemia, such as cancer, kidney disease, and infections, did not change the findings.
In a previous study, using the same data, Dr. Penninx found that a decrease in physical performance is highly predictive of hospitalization, nursing home admission and mortality. In his work, Dr. Guralnik has found that a 1.5 point decrease is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of developing a disability that impairs a person's ability to do activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating and dressing.
"Although no study yet shows that treating anemia in older people reduces the incidence of physical decline, our study certainly suggests that this may be the case," Dr. Penninx said. "Anemia deserves clinical attention. That's the take home message."
Anemia affects at least 3.4 million Americans and is the most common blood disorder in the United States. It occurs when the body doesn't produce enough red blood cells or red blood cells are prematurely destroyed. More specifically, it is defined as a low concentration of hemoglobin
Contact: Doug Dollemore
NIH/National Institute on Aging