Anaemia in the elderly is a major public health problem. 164 million of the older adults in India, that is 23.9% of the total geriatric population, suffer from anaemia. It is a major cause of concern because it increases the risk of death of an individual by 40%. In India, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of older adults suffering from anaemia. It has from mild in 2002 to severe in 2009, making anaemia a critical public health problem in India.
Aging is not a cause of anaemia. But aging makes a person liable to suffer from anaemia. Geriatric anaemia is associated with a significant increase in the morbidity and mortality rate of an older adult.
Anaemia is defined by the WHO as the condition where the haemoglobin concentration in blood is less than 13g/dL for men and less than 12g/dL for women. Anaemia in older age causes symptoms like fatigue, weakness, breathlessness, dizziness, cold hands and feet, and headache.
Causes of Anaemia in Older Adults
Our blood contains red blood cells (RBCs) that are responsible for supplying oxygen throughout the body. The normal range of RBCs in the blood is 47-61 lakhs per ml in men and 42-54 lakhs per ml in women. When the number of RBCs goes down, it is termed as anaemia.
Here is a list of causes of anaemia in older adults:
1. Improper nutrition
RBCs are principally made up of iron, folic acid and vitamin A. A healthy intake of these nutrients in the form of food or supplements causes the level of RBCs to remain stable. However, due to improper dietary habits over the years, you may be prone to anaemia.
Green leafy vegetables, nuts, eggs, mushrooms, green peas and beans, whole wheat foods, potatoes, lentils (dal), meat, millets (bajra, jowar), jaggery, cabbage, turnip, and pineapple are rich in folic acid that is required to increase the RBC levels in the body. Besides, freshly sprouted pulses have high iron content. Having a handful of black chana on an empty stomach every morning increases haemoglobin levels. Oats are another source of iron. A morning breakfast of oats and fresh fruits and dry fruits is a power-packed way to start the day. Beetroot is also a food that has very high iron content. It also contains vitamins A and C.
Also Read: 5 Simple Recipes for Elderly with Dysphagia
2. Improper intake of tea and coffee
Tea and coffee are essentially stimulants. Coffee contains caffeine that is addictive to your system and is not good for health. If you have the habit of consuming either of these drinks after having your food, you are more likely to suffer from anaemia. Consuming black tea and black coffee in large quantities also causes anaemia.
Tea and coffee intake should be limited to proper times. Avoid consuming tea or coffee after a heavy meal as it interferes with the process of digestion. You can also frequently have raw groundnut and jaggery to manage your haemoglobin levels.
Malaria is caused due to the biting of the female anopheles mosquito. Malaria is a major cause of anaemia as the malarial virus becomes a parasite on your red blood cells and spreads all across your body. They also severely deplete the RBC levels in the body. And for older adults, due to compromised immune system, the problem intensifies.
In most cases, prevention is better than cure for malaria. Keep your body covered fully while stepping out to avoid mosquito bites. Install nets at the windows of your home and keep all windows and doors closed in the evenings when the number of mosquitoes is the highest. In case you suspect you have malaria, consult your doctor immediately and seek treatment as early as possible.
Also Read: 5 Fungal Infections Common In The Elderly
4. Loss of blood in case of accidents
If you have suffered from an accident which caused heavy blood loss, you are likely to develop anaemia. In the elderly, even a minor paper cut can be a cause of concern. Even after outer recovery, your body takes time to heal internally and start producing RBCs. Blood loss can also occur due to hookworms and leeches.
In case of heavy blood loss in an accident, your treating doctor will usually give you a blood transfusion to compensate for the blood loss. For a few days after the accident, you have to be very careful and have a proper diet to give your body the chance to recover from the trauma. If you have a garden, make sure you wear footwear and pants that fully cover your legs.
5. Menstruation in females:
Women who have not yet reached menopause, may have anaemia due to bleeding more during their monthly periods. If the blood loss is not compensated at the time, it can lead to severe condition in older women.
Consult your gynaecologist to suggest iron and folic acid supplements to compensate for the blood loss. A good diet along with these supplements will help to avoid anaemia.
Anaemia is an issue many older adults face. However, with proper care, you will be able to overcome this hurdle and live a happy life.
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