Rates of Dementia in Decline; Total Numbers Going Up

In a recent study, researchers have found that the rates of dementia are dropping, apparently because of improved cardiovascular health and better educational levels. Both factors are known to be connected to better brain health.

The study was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA:Internal Medicine. It showed that for people over 65 the rate of dementia fell from 11.6 percent in the year 2000 down to 8.8 percent in 2012. That represents a decline of 24 percent in the population of 21,000 people surveyed across the United States.

“It’s definitely good news,” said Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan. He is also a coauthor of the new study. “Even without a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or a new medication, there are things that we can do socially and medically and behaviorally that can significantly reduce the risk.”

This new study, called the “Health and Retirement Study,” agrees with other similar research conducted in the US and in Europe. This study supplies some of the most powerful evidence that the decline is a real trend that crosses income levels and ethnicity. The average age of study participants was 75.

This does not mean that illnesses such as Alzheimer’s is going away. While rates of dementia may be in decline, the aging population is growing fast. By the year 2050 the number of Americans over the age of 65 is predicted to double, to about 84 million people. So even if the percentage of elderly people developing dementia shrinks, the total number of citizens with this debilitating illness will grow.

“Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.