Neuropsychology of Vitamin B₁₂ Deficiency in Elderly Dementia Patients and Control Subjects

Kaplan Hospital, Rehovot, Israel and the Department of Behavioral Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel.
Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology (Impact Factor: 2.24). 04/2005; 18(1):33-8. DOI: 10.1177/0891988704272308
Source: PubMed


Cobalamin deficiency may cause cognitive deficits and even dementia. In Alzheimer's disease, the most frequent cause of dementia in elderly persons, low serum levels of vitamin B12, may be misleading. The aim of this work was to characterize the cognitive pattern of B12 deficiency and to compare it with that of Alzheimer's disease. Nineteen patients with low levels of vitamin B12 were neuropsychologically evaluated before treatment and a year later. Results were compared with those of 10 healthy control subjects. Final results suggest that there is a different pattern in both diseases. Twelve elderly patients with dementia improved with treatment. Seven elderly demented patients did not improve; they deteriorated after 1 year although their levels of cobalamin were normal. Analysis of the initial evaluation showed that the 2 groups of patients had a different neuropsychological profile. The group that improved had initially more psychotic problems and more deficits in concentration, visuospatial performance, and executive functions. They did not show language problems and ideomotor apraxia, which were present in the second group. Their memory pattern was also different. These findings suggest that cobalamin deficiency may cause a reversible dementia in elderly patients. This dementia may be differentiated from that of Alzheimer's disease by a thorough neuropsychological evaluation.

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    ABSTRACT: "Propositions (Stellingen)" ([2] p.) inserted. Thesis (doctoral)--Wageningen University, 2006. Vita. Includes bibliographical references.
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    ABSTRACT: Cobalamin deficiency is a common finding. In the elderly the prevalence is 10-20%, but only 5-10% of these are clinically symptomatic. Typical clinical symptoms include macrocytic anemia, neuropsychiatric symptoms and glossitis. In many cases this triad is lacking, however. The serum cobalamin assay is the best first line test, but the results must be carefully interpreted, since a normal level does not exclude deficiency. Markers of cobalamin activity, such as serum homocysteine or methylmalonic acid may be helpful in this situation. The main cause of cobalamin deficiency is atrophic gastritis. It is either caused by an autoimmune process which leads to achlorhydria and severe intrinsic factor deficiency ("classical pernicious anemia") or by atrophic gastritis from other causes, in particular helicobacter pylori infection. In the latter cases the lack of gastric acid does not allow separation of cobalamin from proteins, but intrinsic factor, although low, is sufficient for cobalamin protection (food cobalamin malabsorption). Helicobacter pylori eradication may cure some of these patients. While in food cobalamin malabsorption syndrome small doses of oral cobalamin are effective, parenteral therapy or high oral doses are required for treatment of pernicious anemia. While almost all patients respond hematologically, only half of the patients with neurological signs, and a small minority of psychiatric patients respond to treatment. Patients with pernicious anemia and atrophic gastritis have a greatly increased long-term risk for gastric carcinoids.
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