There are two big, but related, questions in the field of aging research: what causes memory loss and what can residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere do to prevent or minimize it?
This condition can affect someone receiving palliative care and it can also affect people who appear to be in fairly good shape physically and mentally.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice are also interested in this topic since many of our clients and their families are dealing with forms of dementia and other conditions that can cause memory loss.
Unfortunately, there aren’t firm answers for either question at this time, although research is continuing.
Complicating this topic is that some of the studies looking at the mechanics of memory can be confusing since it seems like there are many reasons for the loss rather than one common condition.
But one ingredient is emerging as an item that might help with memory loss or could accelerate it and cause other negative effects if it runs low: folic acid.
Before we get too deep in current research, it helps to educate people about what folate and folic acid are.
Folate is another name for B-9, a member of the Vitamin B family. The mineral has a role in overall cell health and metabolism, helping with everything from overall energy to fingernail growth. Folate’s synthetic form is folic acid, which converts to folate in the body and is easy to absorb. Folic acid can be found naturally in many foods such as leafy green vegetables and meat-based proteins, and also added to certain foods to increase their overall nutritional value.
Since 1998 for instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required that enhanced grain products be fortified with folic acids, such as cereal, bread, pasta, and rice. Vitamin B-9 is also available in supplement forms.
At the same time, however, a lack of folate or folic acid can cause a variety of problems including an increase of toxins in the body.
Folic acid deficiency can also contribute to a variety of conditions, including depression and mental confusion, plus fatigue, muscle weakness, and slower growth of hair and nails. Ada, an online health resource, said it’s also something that won’t go away on its own. It can also lead to a more severe condition called folic acid anemia.
Adult women are encouraged to have at least 400 mcg daily along with a food rich in this in their diet. Pregnant women are encouraged to take even more to lower the risk of birth defects and keep their health strong until birth takes place.
Confusing, conflicting messages for seniors
Current research into the pros and cons of folic acid for seniors seems to boil down to a strong suggestion to talk with your health provider about options that might work best for your blood type, diet, medical history, and other conditions.
Officially, there isn’t a firm connection established between folic acid directly helping people with dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, there is evidence that low folate levels can cause poor cognitive performance in general.
Many medical professionals suggest that people dealing with dementia should continue to include folate in their diet for general good health and to avoid folic acid deficiency.
Age is also a risk factor that could be a folic acid deficiency. This is due to changes in overall digestion after age 65. This often leads to less absorption of food as well as less overall consumption and smaller portions.
But some warn you to not overdo it by increasing your folic acid intake significantly – high levels of folic acid could also cause cognitive difficulties. Worse, high levels of folic acid could mask symptoms caused by other health problems, including cognition difficulties due to low levels of Vitamin B-12.
If you’re having problems related to levels of Vitamin B-12, such as anemia or mental confusion, high levels of folic acid may be a factor. But certain foods or excess alcohol may also be to blame.
A study from Ireland published in 2020 may offer a different take on this: a group of 3,700 adults age 50 and over didn’t find that high amounts of folate led to cognitive decline in those with low B-12 levels. Instead, high folate levels and normal B-12 levels actually saw better cognitive function than those with normal folate levels and low B-12 levels.
Opportunities to learn more
There are a variety of resources for those who want to learn more about folic acid and why it’s important.
Mark your calendar for January 3-9 for Folic Acid Awareness Week, an opportunity to learn more about the value of folic acid for all ages, including where it can be found.