A study done in Canada found that 13.8% of seniors moving to an assisted-living facility are vitamin B12 deficient, with more developing deficiencies during their first year living there. Multiple studies have connected B12 deficiency with several serious health conditions, including dementia, lethargy, osteoporosis, depression, and anaemia.
The researchers, affiliated with the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging, conducted their study in eight Ontario long-term care homes managed by the same organization (Schlegel Villages), which implements a policy that requires testing of vitamin B12 upon admission as well as annually. The study was published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
How prevalent is it?
Included in the sample were the charts of 412 residents, 69% of which were female (286). The researchers found that, at admission, 13.8% of the residents experienced B12 deficiency, while 38.3% of residents had subclinical deficiency. The number of residents that were admitted with normal vitamin B12 levels made up 47.6%.
“This concept of at admission to [long-term care] is particularly noteworthy in this population as persons receiving transitional care are generally more vulnerable because of the stress and anxiety of relocation,” the researchers wrote. “The potential for breakdown in communication on medication and other treatments that are not incorporated into the resident’s care plan post-admission (Coleman 2003); and change in primary physician care for the resident.”
“Vitamin B12 (B12) is a nutrient of special concern in this population because of age-related decreased absorptive ability,” they added, citing several earlier studies.
An opportunity for supplements
Heather Keller, a kinesiology professor at Waterloo who was part of the research team told The Waterloo Region Record about prevalent deficiency at assisted living facilities: "It's not because [they] don't have enough in our diet. It's because [their] body is not absorbing it."
The effects of vitamin B12 deficiency are often mistaken for more serious conditions. "The person looks like they may have early dementia, when really it's a B12 deficiency," Keller told The Record.
They recommend residents to consume supplements, or adding fortified foods to address the deficiency and reverse it.