Background: The relationship between vitamin status and cognitive functioning has been addressed in several recent studies with inconclusive results. The purpose of this study was to examine separate and combined effects of serum vitamin B12 and folic acid on episodic memory functioning in very old age.
Methods: Four study groups were selected from a population-based sample of healthy very old adults (90-101 years of age): normal B12/normal folic acid, low B12/normal folic acid, normal B12/low folic acid, and low B12/low folic acid. Cutoff levels were set at 180 pmol/L for vitamin B12 and at 13 nmol/L for folic acid. Subjects completed two episodic recall tasks (objects and words) and two episodic recognition tasks (faces and words).
Results: Neither vitamin affected recognition or primary memory. Most interesting, although B12 was unrelated to recall performance, subjects with low folic acid levels showed impairment in both word recall and object recall.
Conclusions: These results replicate and extend previous findings that folic acid may be more critical than B12 to memory functioning in late life. The selective effects of folic acid on episodic recall were discussed in terms of encoding and retrieval mechanisms, as well as in relation to brain protein synthesis.