U.S. Dementia Rates Seem to Be Falling
Decades-long review revealed risk of brain disease is dropping, while age at diagnosis is going up
By Dennis Thompson
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 10, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. seniors may be developing dementia less often and at later stages of life, a decades-long study suggests.
More than 5,000 people followed for almost 40 years starting in the mid-1970s experienced an average 20 percent reduction in their risk of developing dementia, the researchers said.
At the same time, the average age at which the participants fell prey to dementia rose, from about 80 in the late 1970s to age 85 in more recent years, added study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri. She is a professor of neurology at Boston University's Alzheimer's Disease Center.
Despite these findings, the United States still faces a dementia crisis with the aging of the baby boom generation, Seshadri noted.
As many as 5.2 million Americans 65 and older are estimated to have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. And these numbers are expected to rise with the aging population, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Seshadri said that even though the average age of dementia shifted upward during the course of the study, there are more people over the age of 85 now than there were people older than 80 decades ago.
"People are going to live to be older and be at greater risk of developing dementia," Seshadri said. "It's not that the burden of disease is going to decrease, but it may not be exploding quite as rapidly as we feared."
However, the study offered some important clues about ways to prevent or delay dementia, she said.
Education and heart health appear to have contributed to the decline in dementia cases, the study found.
Only people with at least a high school diploma experienced a significant decline in their risk for dementia, the study findings showed. Also, the researchers observed an improvement in overall heart health that paralleled the reduction in dementia risk.
"This does add evidence that controlling cardiovascular risk factors and increasing levels of education are good for your risk of developing dementia over time," said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association.