B-complex vitamins might be able to delay the development of dementia in some older folks whose memories have begun to slip. A study in the United Kingdom tested the regimen in 156 people at least 70 years old. All were complaining of some memory problems. They also had high levels of a compound called homocysteine, which is a metabolite formed in the body after meat is digested. It has been linked to a higher risk of dementia.
In this study, volunteers were randomly assigned to take placebo or 500 micrograms of vitamin B12 and 800 micrograms of folic acid and 20 milligrams of vitamin B6. Brains were scanned before starting and after two years on the vitamins. There was seven times less brain atrophy in the gray matter of subjects taking vitamins compared to those on placebo. The investigators were surprised at the magnitude of the effect. Although further research is necessary to confirm these findings, B-complex vitamins are inexpensive, readily available and relatively non-toxic.
One source of cognitive difficulties for some older people may be medications, especially those with anticholinergic activity. To learn more, try our Guide to Drugs & Older People.