More than one in ten Americans over the age of 70 suffer from anemia. Though many people think of anemia as a not particularly dangerous condition, studies have linked it with devastating health outcomes in seniors. In fact, research shows that elderly adults suffering from anemia are 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalized than other seniors, and more than twice as likely to end up in a nursing home.
If your mom, dad, or grandparent suffers from anemia — or symptoms that lead you to believe they may have the condition — you might be wondering what you can do to help. As a family caregiver, there are lots of ways that you can help support an elderly family member with anemia. These include monitoring their well-being, supporting them through lifestyle choices that reduce the impact of their condition, and helping them overcome anemia-related difficulties.
Anemia Risk Factors & Symptoms in Seniors
Anemia is a condition in which the afflicted suffer from a lack of healthy red blood cells. This can be caused by loss of blood or because bone marrow is not producing enough red blood cells. Causes and risk factors of anemia in seniors include poor iron intake, poor diet, heavy alcohol intake, and kidney disease.
The symptoms of anemia are often ignored or blamed on other problems. This leads to many cases of anemia going undiagnosed. As a family caregiver, you can keep watch for signs of anemia in your loved one. If you believe your loved one may be suffering from anemia, you can suggest that they get their blood tested.
Common anemia symptoms that family caregivers can keep watch for include:
- Poor strength
- Lack of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Pale skin
Caring for Seniors with Anemia
If your loved one has been diagnosed with anemia, your actions as a family caregiver can help them manage their condition. In most cases, doctors will recommend a combination of dietary changes and/or supplements to help seniors manage their condition. Many cases of anemia are linked to poor levels of iron, vitamin B12, or folate.
In cases where supplements are recommended, family caregivers can help seniors remember when to take their supplements. Family caregivers can help seniors sort their supplements into pill organizers, monitor seniors when taking medications, or provide reminders when seniors are supposed to take their supplements.
If your loved one’s doctor recommends dietary changes over supplements, you can help your loved one plan and prepare meals. As a family caregiver, you can incorporate the following foods into your loved one’s diet, depending on his or her doctor’s recommendations.
- Iron Sources: Red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, tofu, legumes, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Vitamin B12 Sources: Red meat, seafood, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt
- Folate Sources: Liver, legumes, black-eyed peas, spinach, artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, Brussels sprouts
Managing Anemia Symptoms in the Elderly
While dietary changes or supplements can make anemia’s symptoms more manageable, many seniors continue to experience symptoms even after they make lifestyle changes. Certain symptoms — such as fatigue, lack of strength, and lightheadedness — can increase the risk of falls and put seniors at significant risk of injury.
It is therefore important that family caregivers support seniors in a way that minimizes these risks. Family caregivers should monitor seniors for signs of fatigue or poor balance and make sure that seniors aren’t putting themselves at risk of a slip, trip, or fall.
If you’re concerned about your loved one’s well-being when they are alone, you may also consider hiring a professional caregiver. Many home care professionals, like those at your local Visiting Angels, can help monitor seniors with chronic conditions like anemia and help them manage the symptoms of their conditions. To set up an in-home care consultation, call your local Visiting Angels office today.
* Note: Visiting Angels does not provide medical care. If you are concerned about your loved one’s health or risk of anemia, please contact their doctor. The information contained in this article is meant as informative only and should not be considered a recommendation for care, treatment or diagnosis.