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Anaemia: Signs, Symptoms and Causes for the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Anaemia is a condition which affects over two billion people across the world – over 30% of the global population. It is a common condition for elderly people and something you should be aware of.

While there are diverse types and causes of anaemia, it is in essence a blood disorder where there is a deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin the blood. Anaemia is often a side effect of another issue in the body.

Anaemia can be caused by several different factors, including blood loss, poor nutrition, and certain medical conditions.

If you are worried that yourself or an elderly loved one is suffering with anaemia, the first place to start is seeing your GP. They can often take a blood test to determine whether someone is suffering from anaemia.

Why are the elderly susceptible to anaemia?

While certain types of anaemia are more likely to emerge in younger people, the most common form – iron deficiency anaemia - is prevalent in those over 65, and even more so in those past the age of 80.

This is, in part, due to people in this age group being more likely to have iron poor diets and certain diseases of which anaemia can be a side effect.

Additionally, some blood thinning medications can cause anaemia, and again those who are older may be more likely to take such medicines.

However, what can be concerning for older people are the potential symptoms. Anaemia can cause dizziness and shortness of breath which, in turn, can lead to a fall.

If you or an older person you know is currently suffering with anaemia, it can be a good idea to take action to ensure that any risk of falling is minimised.

Our fall detection alarms allow you to quickly get help should you trip or fall. Devices which have automatic fall detection will alert a loved one or our monitoring centre, without the wearer needing to press the SOS button, so even if they lose consciousness, help can be on the way.

Causes and types of anaemia

There are many different types of anaemia, each with its own cause. The most common type of anaemia is iron deficiency anaemia, which occurs when there is not enough iron in the diet, or the body is unable to absorb iron from food.

Iron deficiency anaemia

This is the most common type of anaemia and is usually caused by not having enough iron in your diet. Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

Iron deficiency anaemia is prevalent in older age, particularly for those who are over 80. Anaemia in elderly people has undesirable affects, including increased susceptibility to falling and depression.

However, it is one of the easiest types of anaemia to treat.

Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia

This type of anaemia can be caused by not having enough vitamin B12 or folate in your diet. Vitamin B12 and folate are both needed to make red blood cells.

However, for some people the issue can be when they lack something called an intrinsic factor which lets their body absorb vitamin B12.

Aplastic Anaemia

This is a rare condition that occurs when the bone marrow does not produce enough red blood cells. This can be due to a variety of factors, including certain medications, radiation therapy, and viral infections. However, the most common cause of aplastic anaemia is from the immune system attacking stem cells in the bone marrow.

Aplastic anaemia can leave the sufferer fatigued and more prone to infections and uncontrolled bleeding.

The condition is rare, but can be serious, and can come on at any age. Affects can be mild or severe, and in some cases can worsen over time.

Sickle Cell Anaemia

Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited blood disorder that causes red blood cells to be misshapen. This can cause a variety of problems, including pain, fatigue, and organ damage.

Red blood cells are usually formed so that are round and flexible, and therefore can move easily through the blood vessels. For someone with sickle cell anaemia, instead of being round, their blood cells are shaped like crescents (sickles), and the cells may become rigid or sticky which can slow or block blood from flowing around the body.

A person with sickle cell anaemia will usually present symptoms from around the age of six months.

Some affects of the condition include periodic episodes of pain – caused by the sickle shaped blood cells blocking blood flow, issues with sight as blood vessels that flow to the eyes can become blocked, and also increased risk of infections.


Thalassaemia is another inherited blood disorder that affects the production of haemoglobin. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including anaemia, fatigue, and bone deformities. Treatment for thalassaemia typically involves taking medication to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

People with thalassemia produce either no or too little haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Therefore, if levels are low, blood will have trouble carrying oxygen through the body and expelling carbon dioxide.

Like sickle cell anaemia, for many, signs and symptoms will appear before they are six months old, although for less severe cases, this may be later.

Anaemia caused by blood loss

The most common cause of blood loss is bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract (stomach or intestines), although it can also occur as a result of heavy menstrual bleeding, blood in the urine (haematuria) or severe nosebleeds (epistaxis). Blood loss can also occur following an injury, surgery or childbirth.

Symptoms of anaemia

While symptoms can vary, depending on the cause and type of anaemia, there are some signs that are common to most sufferers.

These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches

Treatments for anaemia

The treatment for anaemia will depend on the underlying cause. If the anaemia is mild, it may not require any medical intervention. However, if the anaemia is more severe, treatment may be necessary.

For those who suffer with iron deficiency anaemia, often a change of diet can make all the difference. By eating foods rich in iron, they can restore the balance in the body.

Foods rich in iron include:

  • liver
  • red meat.
  • beans, such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas.
  • nuts.
  • dried fruit – such as dried apricots.
  • fortified breakfast cereals.
  • soybean flour.
  • Shellfish
  • Spinach

However, it’s wise to consult a doctor before making major diet changes as some iron rich foods may interfere with medications or other conditions.

Taking an iron supplement can also help for many, though again speak to your GP first.

Treatment for anaemia caused by blood loss

If the anaemia is caused by blood loss, the first step is to stop the bleeding. This may involve taking medication to control a medical condition such as ulcerative colitis or having surgery to remove a cancerous tumour.

Once the bleeding has stopped, treatment will focus on replacing the lost blood. This can be done through a blood transfusion, which involves giving you healthy red blood cells from another person.

Treatment for anaemia caused by reduced or faulty red blood cell production

If the anaemia is caused by reduced or faulty red blood cell production, treatment will focus on correcting the underlying cause. This may involve taking supplements to increase your intake of iron, vitamin B12 or folate. In some cases, you may need regular injections of these vitamins.

If the anaemia is caused by a condition such as anaemia as a result of a chronic disease or aplastic anaemia, treatment will focus on the underlying condition. This may involve taking medication, having surgery, or undergoing a stem cell transplant.

Sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia are lifelong conditions that require ongoing treatment. Treatment for these conditions may involve taking medication to manage symptoms, having regular blood transfusions and, in some cases, undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

Anaemia can be a serious condition, especially in the elderly. If you think you or someone you know may have anaemia, see your doctor for a blood test. With treatment, most people with anaemia can live healthy lives.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one who suffers with anaemia may be at risk of falling or other issues, Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201to learn more about how you can help keep your elderly loved ones safe with a personal alarm.

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