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Hospice in the Santa Clara Area: How Folic Acid May Impact Aging and Dementia

Recent studies have shown that folic acid affects mood and cognitive function, especially in older people who suffer from depression and dementia. Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps the body make healthy new cells, says the CDC. Everyone needs it, especially women who are planning to get pregnant, as it can prevent major birth defects of the brain or spine. But folic acid is critical to the functioning of the nervous system at all ages, especially in Alzheimer’s patients. Hospice in the Santa Clara area can address these folate deficiencies, as caregivers are well aware how the lack of folic acid can impact aging and dementia.

Researchers have detected a link between depression and folate deficiency, as well as a link between cognitive decline in geriatric patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Studies also show that anemia is highly prevalent in the palliative care setting as part of chronic disease, progressing in deficiency through hospice and end of life care. An increase in folic acid may help improve the physical, emotional and cognitive functioning of elderly patients, points out the NIH as part of a separate study.

What is Folic Acid?

This major B vitamin is helpful to all humans of all ages. In its natural food form, it is known as folate, while it is referred to as folic acid in supplement form. Folic acid has long been added to cereals, flour, pasta, cookies, crackers and more. But folate also occurs naturally in these foods:

  • Leafy green vegetables, i.e., spinach, lettuce, broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Okra
  • Fruits, i.e., bananas, melons, lemons
  • Dried beans, peas, and nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver and kidney
  • Enriched breads, cereals, and other grain products
  • Orange juice
  • Tomato juice

Folic acid is often taken to prevent and treat low blood levels of folate, as well as anemia, the inability of the bowel to absorb nutrients, ulcerative colitis, liver disease, alcoholism and kidney dialysis. Interestingly, it’s also used to improve memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, age-related hearing loss and age-related macular degeneration. In addition, it can also reduce signs of aging and depression, says WebMD.

Benefits of Folic Acid

Low folate blood levels are associated with poor cognitive performance. It stands to reason that this condition can be improved by increasing folic acid intake, says the Mayo Clinic; however, folic acid isn’t always helpful for people with normal blood levels. While conclusive results have yet to show an across-the-board improvement in everyone with folic acid deficiency, recent studies do seem to point to the benefit of folic acid in dementia patients and those with depression.

A study outlined in WebMD shows that people with high levels of the amino acid known as homocysteine are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Consequently, folic acid has been proven to lower homocysteine levels in the blood. Researchers believe that folic acid can protect the brain by allowing nerve cells to repair DNA damage.

A study appearing in Medical News Today shows that taking folic acid supplements can significantly improve cognitive function in older men and women. Lowered cognitive functions, including memory deterioration, decreased ability to process information quickly, and compromised verbal fluency, have been connected to dementia in old age.

Drawbacks of Folic Acid

Some researchers have detected a high correlation between Vitamin B12 deficiency with cognitive decline. But let’s back up a bit…when the federal government mandated grain products include added folic acid in 1996, there was a 40 to 50 percent decrease in the number of babies born with neural tube defects — something our young have benefited from but at the expense of our elderly. The FDA may not have predicted that high folic acid intake could harm older adults.

That’s because 25 percent of people over the age of 65 don’t get enough vitamin B12, which is very important for brain and neurological system function. All that added folic acid in their diet and supplements could be exacerbating some symptoms of B12 deficiency, including dementia and anemia.

Because we don’t naturally produce B12, we must get it from the foods we eat, such as eggs, milk, and meat. Problem is, older adults can’t metabolize this vitamin as easily due to lower stomach acid production, which is necessary for the separation of B12 from the proteins in food. No causation has been determined yet, just a correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive decline, according to researchers at Tufts. To be safe, researchers recommend that older adults have their doctors check their vitamin B12 levels when considering folic acid supplements.

Contact Pathways Home, Health and Hospice

Pathways Home, Health and Hospice is cognizant of all the dietary and supplement needs of our hospice patients. To inquire about folic acid, aging and dementia as part of hospice care, please contact us at 888-755-7855 today.