More Doctors Recommend B12 for Healthy SeniorMore Doctors Recommend B12 for Healthy Senior Minds Minds

For seniors who want to keep their memory and mental skills sharp, researchers now recommend Vitamin B12 supplements. That’s because our ability to absorb B12 often declines with age, which can lead to a cascade of mind and body problems. Here’s the latest thinking on B12 supplements for healthy senior brains.

How aging can reduce B12 absorption

Your body can only absorb the B12 found in meat and dairy foods if it makes enough stomach acid. As we age, acid production declines. Up to 30% of seniors are unable to absorb enough B12 from food, which is why doctors and researchers are now suggesting supplements. Without enough B12, people can slowly develop severe memory, mood, and balance problems.

As health writer Jane Brody notes in her New York Times column, B12 deficiency is also a risk for vegans and vegetarians, people who take proton-pump inhibiting medications for reflux, people with some digestive diseases, and those who’ve had stomach surgery. These people may also benefit from taking an over-the-counter B12 supplement.

B12 deficiency symptoms to watch for

The Mayo Clinic says that many signs of B12 deficiency in seniors are sometimes missed because they look like other conditions, such as  dementia. If you notice these changes, ask your doctor about them. He or she may want to run a B12 test.

  • Tingling feeling in the hands and/or feet and legs
  • Physical weakness
  • Mobility and balance problems, especially problems with walking
  • Personality changes, depression, dementia, and (rarely) psychosis
  • Lack of appetite and constipation
  • Weight loss

Anemia is related to B12 deficiency, too, although not all anemias are caused by lack of B12 and B12 deficiency can appear on its own without anemia. The good news is that B12 symptoms usually can be reversed if they’re caught and treated early. Severe symptoms may not be reversible, which is why prevention and early treatment are important.

How much B12 should seniors take?

The B12 dosing guidelines for older adults are somewhat vague. The recommended daily intake for adults in general is 2.4 micrograms, with older people needing more to make up for decreased absorption. How much more is an open question. The Mayo Clinic says there’s no danger of B12 overdose, and you can buy supplements with doses ranging from 500 to 5,000 micrograms.

However, even for patients with a confirmed lack of B12, the National Institutes of Health recommends 2,000 mcg per day after a course of B12 injections, eventually tapering down to as little as 1,000 mcg per month. For most seniors, Brody’s column in the Times recommends no more than 1,000 micrograms per day. As with any supplement, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor first to make sure your supplements won’t interfere with any medications you take.

If you’re adding B12 supplements to your parents’ diet, you should also talk to their home health aides or their nursing home staff to make sure they’re aware of the change. You can find more healthy eating ideas on the blog.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


  1. Irvin Cutler December 6, 2016 Reply

    Regarding B-12: Sublingual will absorb fine. I use Patriot Power Greens which has all the vitamins and minerals one needs.

  2. Judy Brown December 7, 2016 Reply

    Let me get to know you guys..

  3. Bea April 13, 2017 Reply

    About the Patriot Power greens, I read the label and it is full of the kinds of things that typically contain lots of vitamin k. I’m not seeing it listed on the label but it could cause serious problems if you are on a blood thinner with vitamin k acting as a coagulant. Having suffered a stroke because my INR levels got too low, I’m always leery of this kind of thing and manufacturers of these products rarely mention this danger.

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