Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Seniors
The Effects of Vitamin B12
Many people think of the Vitamin B Complex in general, and Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) in particular, as "the energy vitamin". While this is a good description of one of its functions, its affects on the body are much wider than simply helping to generate energy. B12 also increases alertness and aids in most mental activities.
Deficiency in Seniors
When it comes to detecting a Vitamin B12 deficiency in seniors we should leave that to the doctors. They have some very precise tools for detecting many vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.
However, we can make an educated guess that a Vitamin B-12 deficiency might exist.
In anyone of any age, the symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency generally tend to develop slowly and gradually and might not even become apparent for as much as a year or more after the deficiency begins.
Anemia is probably one of the earliest, and most common, signs of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, and the one that most people might relate to an iron deficiency, although other nutrients might be involved. While an iron deficiency can certainly be one of the causes of anemia, Vitamin B12 helps the body make use of the iron which is made available to it through diet or supplementation, so, a deficiency in Vitamin B12, an iron deficiency, OR both could be the culprit.
However, a B12 deficiency does not only produce, or contribute to, anemia. Other symptoms can include poor memory, inability to concentrate, confusion, along with that feeling of tiredness, irritability, and loss of appetite. If this list of symptoms sounds familiar, it could also be used to describe many seniors...who may or may not be deficient in Vitamin B12.
That's part of the problem with self-diagnosing almost any nutritional deficiency. In many cases similar symptoms can prompt people to take one course of action when another is what is actually needed.
After all, it is crucial to recognize whether a senior is actually sliding into the first stages of dementia, or simply needs to improve his or her diet. That is why, while it is always important to make the best choices possible in the area of nutrition, it is also important to get test results which can confirm that a nutrient deficiency does or does not exist.
Fortunately, a Vitamin B12 deficiency in seniors, as in the rest of the
population, is usually fairly easily reversed. This can often
be done simply through the introduction of a Vitamin B12 supplement,
many of which are available over-the-counter, or by a shot at the
I, and many others, would probably prefer to increase B12 levels through proper diet alone, but, this can be difficult as it is not
available in plants, and is only available in limited amounts through other foods that contain vitamin B12, mainly meats.
For seniors, an additional problem is that their bodies often have difficulties extracting available levels of almost any nutrient from
food sources. This is one reason that I, and many experts, believe that it is a good idea for seniors to specifically supplement
their diet with a daily multivitamin for general health.
For many seniors, however, even that daily multivitamin may not be enough in the case of B12.
One problem is that B12 is a water soluble vitamin (See this article on Fat And Water Soluble Vitamins), and it leaves the body fairly rapidly. If you are not getting enough of this vital nutrient to start with, and it leaves the body fairly quickly, even the relatively small amount a senior, who has trouble making use of nutrients in the first place, receives from a multivitamin supplement may not raise levels to where they should be.
As alluded to earlier, a Vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly in seniors, can mimic the dementia and confusion often associated with aging, or make an actual case of dementia even worse. Simply viewing the individual, especially by an untrained individual, cannot reveal the truth, even to Sherlock Holmes!
If there is any reason at all to suspect dementia, OR a Vitamin B deficiency, a trip to the doctor is in order, as there are very specific tests which can reveal the exact levels of B12 in the body. If such a situation does exist, as pointed out, steps can be taken immediately to correct the problem.
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By: Donovan Baldwin
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