The results of an epidemiologic study, reported in the American Journal of Medicine (August 1, 2003), showed that anemia doubles the risk that an older person will develop serious physical declines that may prevent the ability to live independently. In addition, older people who do not yet have anemia, but whose blood tests are just above the accepted cutoff point for diagnosing the condition, are 1.5 times more likely to develop physical declines, compared with those who have normal hemoglobin levels.
During the study, the researchers followed 1146 people, aged 71 years and older, for >4 years, assessing their ability to perform 3 physical tasks: standing balance, a timed 8-foot walk, and the ability to rise from a chair. Each activity was scored on a 5-point scale. Then the scores were added together to create a 0 to 12 overall score. These scores were correlated with blood samples taken from the participants.
At the end of the study, two thirds of the participants had at least moderate declines in physical performance scores, with 346 having significant decreases. Overall, those who did not have anemia averaged a 1.4-point decline on the 12-point scale during the study. Participants who had borderline anemia fell an average of 1.8 points, and those with anemia dropped an average of 2.3 points on the 12-point scale.