NYT: Some mental confusion could be solved by B12

Memory problems, confusion can be addressed with injections

December 1, 2011

Elderly people grappling with confusion or memory problems could have low levels of the vitamin B12, the New York Times reports.

B12 is an essential vitamin for human nutrition, used to develop and maintain the nervous system. However, elderly patients—who eat fewer foods rich in B12, like red meats, and progressively absorb less of the vitamin—and those on vegetarian diets can suffer a B12 deficiency with little warning. A lack of B12 also can bring about a slew of other symptoms: muscle weakness, fatigue, shakiness, unstable gait, incontinence, low blood pressure, depression or other mood disorders, and even anemia.

Physicians may misdiagnose the resulting cognitive symptoms as aging-related dementia or even early Alzheimer's disease, and prescribe medicines that are ultimately unhelpful, the Times notes. However,  weekly B12 injections can help ease memory problems for some of these patients. Tablets taken under the tongue or skin patches that include the vitamin may be just as effective.

Meanwhile, should patients' B12 levels be checked more frequently? "It is an important question," the Times concludes, given the number of patients who stand to be misdiagnosed (Brody, Times, 11/28).

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