Intriguing new Alzheimer’s research suggests that—after adjusting for age—Americans 65 years of age and older are less likely to develop dementia today than they were in previous decades. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the national study now confirms standing regional studies and European research that show a decline in dementia.
More specifically, dementia rates in people older than 65 has fallen from 11.6 percent in 2000 to just 8.8 percent in 2012. That is an impressive decline of 24 percent.
“It’s definitely good news,” explains Dr. Kenneth Langa, who is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan. Also a coauthor of the study, Langa goes on to say, “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.”
Of course, studies like this are important as the number of Americans over the age of 65 is slated to double by 2050—to reach approximately 84 million—as described by the U.S. Census. Alzheimer’s Association director of scientific programs and outreach, medical, and scientific relations, Keith Fargo, notes, that when you follow the numbers , it turns out that even if the percentage of elderly people who develop dementia falls slightly lower than previously estimated, the total number of Americans suffering (diagnosed or otherwise) from dementia will still increase.
Fargo adds, “Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates.”
Now, researchers are still uncertain as to why these rates are in decline. Langa speculates that doctors might just be getting better at controlling hypertension and diabetes; age-related conditions that could contribute to dementia if they go untreated. Both of these conditions increase risk of stroke—a condition which kills brain cells—which can increase an inherent risk for vascular dementia.
Fargo goes on to say, “We’ve been saying now for several years that what’s good for your heart is good for your head. There are several things you can do to reduce your risk for dementia.”