New Study Points to Decline in Dementia Rates Among Seniors
The results of a recently published study carried out at the University of Michigan indicate that dementia rates among seniors in the US are falling, with a marked decline recorded since 2000.
The research, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, suggests that among the key reasons for the improvement is an increase in education, as well as improved treatment for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “Our results add to a growing body of evidence that this decline in dementia risk is a real phenomenon, and that the expected future growth in the burden of dementia may not be as extensive as once thought,” said Prof. Kenneth Langa, a co-author of the new study. (BBC)
Dementia, also known as senility, is a broad umbrella term for brain conditions that result in a gradual, long-term decline in memory and cognitive function, the most common type of which is Alzheimer's disease, accounting for 50–70 per cent of cases. More than one type of dementia may manifest in the same person. Common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and decreased motivation. A formal diagnosis of dementia requires a recorded change in a person's mental functioning and a greater decline than would be attributable to normal aging.
Comparing data samples of more than 21,000 Americans aged over 65 from across the country, the researchers found that 11.6 per cent of subjects were diagnosed with some form of dementia in 2000, declining to 8.8 percent by 2012. “That’s well over a million people who don’t have dementia, who would have had it if the rates had stayed the same as 2000 rates,” said John Haaga, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging, which funded the study. (NPR)
According to the researchers, the fall in dementia occurred despite increases in conditions considered risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, suggesting that improved treatments for these conditions may have been a contributing factor. Spending more years in education may also help the brain compensate for abnormalities that occur as the body ages. “Our study, along with prior studies, supports the notion that ‘cognitive reserve’ resulting from early life and lifelong education and cognitive stimulation may be a potent strategy for the primary prevention of dementia in both high- and low-income countries around the world,” the researchers wrote. (NBC News)
The average amount of education received by the people in the data samples was 11.8 years in 2000, representing a little less than a full high school education. That average had risen to 12.7 years by 2012.
Dr. Langa, noted that there was no conclusive explanation yet for why education might be such a significant factor. “One [theory] is that education might actually change the brain itself,” he said. “We think that it actually creates more—and more complicated—connections between the nerve cells so that you're able to keep thinking normally later into life.” (NPR)
The findings of the study are supported by similar research in Europe, which found that dementia rates had declined in Britain and Spain, and had stabilized in other parts of Europe. Prof. Carol Brayne, who participated in the European study, said the new research from the US represented compelling further evidence of a decline in dementia rates in some countries. “These findings are incredibly important for the world and underlie the importance of access to education,” she said. “But it is likely to be a combination of risk factors—better health from conception, vaccinations, access to education, medical care, not smoking—that taken together will have an impact.” (BBC)
A Comparison of the Prevalence of Dementia in the United States in 2000 and 2012 (JAMA Internal Medicine)
Dementia rates show signs of falling (BBC)
Rate of Dementia Declines Among US Seniors (Live Science)
Dementia Rates Might Be Declining, New Study Finds (NBC News)
Dementia Risk Declines, And Education May Be One Reason Why (NPR)
Dementia on the downslide, especially among people with more education (EurkaAlert!)
Dutch Home for Dementia Sufferers Provides Simulation of Normal Life (Buddhistdoor Global)
Improving the Lives of People with ALS through Mindfulness (Buddhistdoor Global)