Older adults are at increased risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, not only because our absorption ability decreases as we age, but also because deficiency can be caused by drug interactions, and many older adults take multiple medications. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a significant health risk; it can lead to anemia, weakness, vision loss, and mental problems like depression and memory loss. The good news is that it’s easily treatable with supplementation.

A study published in February 2016 sought to shed light on the problem of vitamin B12 deficiency by researching the problem among older adults living in long-term care facilities. Those adults may be at even greater risk than similarly aged adults living in the community, since we know that physically and cognitively dependent older adults are at higher risk of deficiency. This current study aimed to identify prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency upon admission to a long-term care facility, new cases one year after admission, and subgroups who had different rates of risk. The study included 8 separate sites, allowing for a large sample size (412 residents).

At admission to the long-term care facility, 13.8% of people had vitamin B12 deficiency. After a year of living at the facility, 4% developed a deficiency. People who had supplemented with B12 before admission had much better B12 status after a year of living in the facility. Other characteristics did not influence risk of deficiency.

This study is important because it makes it clear not only that vitamin B12 deficiency is a problem at the time of admission to long-term care facilities, but that it’s even more of a problem a year later. This may have to do with age, changes in medications and supplements, and other factors. Ultimately, this study may influence decisions regarding whether to screen all residents entering facilities for B12 deficiency. Further studies are needed to confirm the effects of treatment and changes in health outcomes.

Pfisterer KJ, Sharratt MT, Heckman GG, Keller HH. Vitamin B12 status in older adults living in Ontario long-term care homes: prevalence and incidence of deficiency with supplementation as a protective factor. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016;41(2):219-222.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.