Older people are at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because of an age-related decrease in absorptive ability. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a range of blood and nervous system abnormalities. A new multi-center study from Canada reveals the extent of vitamin B12 deficiency both on admission to long-term care homes and after one year of residence.
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin, is necessary for the formation of blood cells, nerve sheaths and proteins. Deficiency can lead to pernicious anemia and neurological disturbances (2). Vitamin B12 is important in the regeneration of folate and involved in the production of melatonin (which is important for regulating the sleep-wake cycle). Older people are at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because of an age-related decrease in absorptive ability.
A new study from Canada (1) has looked at the vitamin B12 status of older people on admission to long-term care homes at eight sites across the country. The status was measured and then reassessed at an interval of approximately one year after admission.
The few studies carried out in long-term care homes previously indicated a prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency of between 8 and 34% (1). In the current study (1), the incidence of deficiency on admission (˂ 156 pmol/L) was an average of 13.8%, but ranged from 4.1% to 27.1%. One year after admission to the care homes, the level of vitamin B12 deficiency had fallen to almost half, at 7%. The incidence of new cases of deficiency during that time was just 4.2%. The results indicate that the health care provided for the elderly in Canada is able to recognize and treat the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency.