Iron deficiency in elderly

Iron deficiency (ID) is the most common nutritional deficiency disorder in the world, defined as a lack of iron body stores, and usually caused by inadequate absorption and/or excessive iron losses. For men and women over the age of 65, low bodily iron levels are a serious concern (and should not be ignored) and a common occurrence due to the natural process of aging. Around 80 percent of elderly adults have anemia, a condition most caused by low iron intake and chronic disease.

Most common symptoms include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Weakness
  3. High Heart Rate
  4. Shortness of breath
  5. Dizziness
  6. Pale skin color
  7. Feeling cold
  8. Behavioral changes (lack of interest, confusion, agitation, headaches, or depression).

Since all these symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions also, a physical examination and blood tests to determine whether you have anemia is best suggested. Sometimes a person may not notice any symptoms, but anemia will be identified by an abnormal result on a routine blood test (such as a blood test that is part of your annual check-up).

Even mild anemia can lead to a lower quality of life. For example, a little muscle weakness and frailty combined with a little less balance can increase the risk of a fall, which would have a major impact on quality of life. If an older person has heart disease and anemia, there might be an increase in chest pain or swelling in the ankles.


While the condition of anemia is caused by a low red blood cell count, it is important to determine the cause for it. This could be caused by having inadequate iron-rich foods, lack of vitamin B12 in the diet, or chronic inflammation. However, the causes of anemia in elderly people are often the result of more than one condition occurring simultaneously. The three major reasons why anemia can happen are described below:

Iron-deficiency Anemia

A common cause of iron-deficiency anemia is chronic blood loss, usually from the gastrointestinal tract. Bleeding ulcers or polyps, chronic irritation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, or cancer can cause this kind of "silent" internal bleeding. Often, this blood loss is invisible to the naked eye, and your healthcare provider may do a simple test, called a fecal occult blood test, to diagnose it.

Anemia of Inflammation/Chronic Disease

Anemia of chronic disease is the most common cause of anemia in the elderly. It can result from chronic inflammation caused by ongoing infections, tissue damage, and various forms of arthritis, benign or malignant tumors, or a variety of chronic medical conditions. These conditions cause inflammation inside the body and prevent your bone marrow from working as well as it should. Often in many older cases the underlying disease may not be identified right away.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Elderly people who consume diets limited in variety are at risk for various nutritional deficiencies that can contribute to anemia. The two most common nutritional anemias seen in the elderly are the B vitamins, especially B12, or folate, zinc and iron.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common with advancing age, particularly in women over the age of 60 and adults with autoimmune thyroid disease. Signs and symptoms include:

  1. General body weakness
  2. Pale skin
  3. Changes in the nervous system (some signs of this include a clumsy walk, or numbness and tingling in the arms and legs)
  4. Behavioral changes or confusion

Elderly adults can prevent many instances of anemia by eating a healthy diet full of iron-rich foods, such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, fresh fruits, and whole grains. Since anemia is linked to overall declines in elderly health, it is especially important to be mindful about unexplained symptoms that could be caused by low iron and treated accordingly and early in their progression. Older adults should also have their iron levels checked at least once per year at an annual physical with their doctors. If your doctor suggests you take iron supplements, you can begin taking small dosage with foods that are rich in Vitamin-C.

If you are looking for a vegan or plant-based iron supplement, EBMfer may be considered as it is free from animal products and gelatin. EBMfer is available as capsules and raspberry flavoured great tasting liquid that may be suitable for elderly who can not swallow capsules or children who are fussy about taking medicines.

EBMmoms capsules is a vegan prenatal multivitamin supplement.