Malays Fam Physician, 2011;6(1):7-14.


Anaemia is the most common haematological problem in the elderly population. Using WHO criteria for anaemia (Hb of <12 g/dL in women and <13 g/dL in men), the prevalence of anaemia in the elderly has been found to range from 8-44% with the highest prevalence in men 85 years and older. Anaemia must not be considered simply as part of ageing because in 80% of cases, there is an underlying cause for Hb
levels of <12 g/dL in the elderly. Anaemia has negative impacts on the quality of life for the elderly and there is evidence of improved morbidity and
mortality after correction of anaemia. Chronic disease and thalassaemia may also cause microcytic anaemia besides iron deficiency and not all vitamin B12 and folate deficiency present with macrocytic megaloblastic anaemia. Nutritional deficiency anaemias are common, easily diagnosed, treatments are simple, inexpensive and effective. Tests for nutritional anaemia have to be given priority in the assessment before a patient is subjected to invasive tests to look for less common causes of anaemia. Serum ferritin which is the best non-invasive test for the diagnosis of iron deficiency anaemia may be increased in the elderly while serum iron and transferrin decrease with ageing. Serum methylmalonic acid (MMA) and homocysteine (HC) levels are sensitive for detecting subclinical vitamin B12 and folate deficiency. Routine iron therapy in non-anaemic elderly or in those without iron deficiency anaemia is of no use and may be detrimental to their health. Folate therapy may improve anaemia but may mask the signs and symptoms of neurological damage due to concomitant
vitamin B12 deficiency. Blood transfusion offers prompt symptom relief of anaemia in patients with terminal malignancy irrespective of the causes for the anaemia.