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Vol. 45, No. 2, 1999
Issue release date: March–April 1999
Gerontology 1999;45:96–101

Clinical Relevance of Thiamine Status amongst Hospitalized Elderly Patients

Pepersack T. · Garbusinski J. · Robberecht J. · Beyer I. · Willems D. · Fuss M.
aDivision of Geriatric Medicine, bDepartment of Internal Medicine and cDepartment of Clinical Chemistry, Brugmann University Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium

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Background: The prevalence and the consequences of thiamine deficiency among elderly patients admitted to acute geriatric wards are not known. Objectives: (1) To assess the prevalence of thiamine deficiency in patients admitted to a geriatric ward compared to age-matched ambulatory outpatients; (2) to identify their diseases and problems associated with thiamine deficiency, and (3) to determine the relationship between the thiamine status and the cognitive and functional status of these patients. Materials and Methods: 118 aged hospitalized patients (83 ± 7 years; mean age ± SD) were prospectively enrolled on admission to the geriatric ward. Their cognitive status was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and their ability to perform their activities of daily living (ADL) using ADL scales. The effect of exogenous thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) addition on the blood transketolase (TK) activity (TPP TK effect) served to estimate thiamine deficiency. Socioeconomic data, diseases and treatment were identified as potential associated risk factors. This group of hospitalized patients was divided according to their thiamine status to characterize the conditions associated with thiamine deficiency. Thirty-five outpatients without any functional or cognitive impairment served as a control group. Results: Of 118 inpatients, 46 (39%) presented with a TPP TK effect of >15%, and 6 with values of >22%, indicating moderate and severe thiamine deficiency, respectively. Only 6 of 30 outpatients (20%) exhibited a TPP TK effect of >15% and none of them reached values of >18%. Although it tended to be lower in outpatients, the mean TPP TK effect did not statistically differ from the mean of inpatients. Thiamine-deficient inpatients comprised a larger proportion of institutionalized subjects than nondeficient inpatients (87 versus 47%, p < 0.001). Functional status, cognitive functions and the occurrence of delirium did not differ according to their thiamine status. By contrast, thiamine-deficient inpatients exhibited a higher proportion of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cardiac failure and falls. Furosemide was more frequently taken by thiamine-deficient patients. Conclusions: Severe thiamine deficiency remained quite low among the hospitalized elderly. The prevalence of moderate thiamine deficiency approached 40%. Institutionalized subjects were at particular risk of developing thiamine deficiency. Its clinical relevance on functional status and on cognitive function remained not significant. By contrast, a high proportion of falls, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cardiac failure and furosemide use could have been related to thiamine deficiency.

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