By Robert Preidt
MONDAY, Dec. 18, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- While rates of mental decline and dementia have dropped among American seniors overall, they remain higher in rural areas than in cities, a new study finds.
"The incidence of dementia is expected to double by 2050, largely because of the aging cohort of baby boomers," said senior investigator Regina Shih, of the Rand Corp., in Santa Monica, Calif.
"This is the first study to report a rural-urban differential that behooves the scientific and clinical community to address the attendant factors that confer higher risk for dementia in rural seniors," Shih added.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 16,000 adults, aged 55 and older, who were evaluated in 2000 and 2010.
In 2000, rates of mental decline without dementia were nearly 20 percent in rural areas and 16 percent in cities, while rates of dementia were just over 7 percent in rural areas and 5.4 percent in cities.
In 2010, rates of both conditions had declined, but still remained higher in rural areas than in cities. Rates of mental decline without dementia were 16.5 percent in rural areas and just under 15 percent in cities, while rates of dementia were about 5 percent in rural areas and 4.4 percent in cities.
The study was published online Dec. 12 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Education level was found to be another major risk factor for mental decline and dementia. The rural-urban differences in rates of mental decline and dementia would likely be worse if there hadn't been early 20th century investments nationwide in secondary education, the researchers said.
According to the study's lead investigator, Margaret Weden, "Our findings linking rural adults' recent gains in cognitive [mental] functioning with the improved rates of high school graduation provides a new example of how public investment in education can narrow population health disparities."
Shih added that the researchers "were heartened to observe that the rural-urban disparities in dementia have narrowed somewhat over time. However, there is still a disadvantage that persists among rural seniors."
According to Shih, "Rural communities are aging more rapidly than urban communities. Given that those communities experience more health care and long-term care system challenges, we hope this research sheds light on the need to intervene on the factors that place rural seniors at greater risk for dementia."
The Rand Corporation is a nonprofit institution that aims to help improve policy and decision making through research and analysis. Rand focuses on issues such as health, education and the environment.