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.

 [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May, 20, 2013]

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.

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  1. Rog

    I have used B Complex and other supplements for many years to successfully treat my diagnosed narcolepsy/cataplexy(age 11). I am 68 at this time. Stopped using Dexedrine about 1983. Found the alternative treatment after years of my research. The treatment included other lifestyle changes in my diet, the addition of exercise and meditation. Also attention to my mental health regarding feelings about having this disorder.

  2. Spencer

    Complex is referring to the combination of B12, B6, and folic acid. B12 is just B12…

  3. Paul 43

    I have the same question as Page G—what is the difference betwee b 12 & complex

  4. Helen M

    In addition to those mentioned above is choline, also a member of the B family. I am taking something called citicholine because I take several anti-cholinergic drugs, such as lyrica (indispensable because of wide spread burning from fibro and neuropathy), and, at 75, I am having many memory problems.
    Exercise is another way to gain grey mass. It also helps you to feel better in your body.
    Do some research, there are other supplements that may help.
    Many conditions have been linked to inflammation, including Alzheimer’s. One of the many supplements I take is Zyflamend, which contains several herbs designed to reduce inflammation. I am currently off all supplements prior to surgery, must say I miss them, feel better, think better and have less pain with those I have chosen to take. Helen

  5. Page G

    What is the difference between b 12 and complex b12 ?
    Peoples Pharmacy response: Vitamin B12 is one vitamin. Vitamin B complex contains several different B vitamins.

  6. Pat

    My mom had what they called Alzheimer’s (not sure that’s what it was) and I always had a suspicion that her condition had to do with malnutrition. She lived alone for many years and after awhile, quit cooking and just snacked a lot. She was on medicine for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, then they gave her coumadin. Add a poor diet to that!
    When I think that just being sure she had good food and the B vitamins she needed might have helped her so much, it makes me sad and angry, too. My advice to others is, if you have an elderly person in your family, do whatever it takes to be sure they eat well and take vitamins that are appropriate for their age and condition.

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