Although rates of dementia are alarming, we are now receiving some positive news.
Over the past few years, researchers have continued to publish new research that has made the general public rethink their lifestyle. Although we still do not know what causes dementia, more specifically Alzheimer’s, researchers have uncovered some significant clues.
Could recent research have influenced the way in which individuals live their lives? Is it possible that due to positive changes, rates of dementia have declined? According to a new study, this is exactly what we’re seeing, as dementia rates have dramatically declined among seniors.
Study Finds — The Prevalence of Dementia Has Fallen Sharply
Based on the baby boomer population, there have been some shocking estimates made regarding future rates of dementia. We often hear how the aging population is at risk and more importantly, what can be done to reduce risk factors. Perhaps rising education has made a difference, as rates of dementia have sharply declined.
In 2000, dementia rates among people over the age of 65 was 11.6 percent, in comparison to just 8.8 percent in 2012. Meaning, over the course of 12 years, rates of dementia dropped by 24 percent. This current study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, studied more than 21,000 Americans across the country.
Considering an estimated 4 to 5 million older American adults are affected by dementia each year, it’s encouraging that age-specific risk factors may have declined over the past couple of decades. Researchers believe that rising levels of education may be a contributing factor, influencing both brain function and development.
It’s clear that there’s a link between brain and heart health, which is a key area of interest. In recent years, health professionals have focused on reducing rates of high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes — all which influence dementia risk. Since improvements have been made to treat cardiovascular factors, positive brain health may be an added benefit.
So, besides the obvious, why is this information to relevant?
As mentioned, the baby boomer population isn’t getting any younger and based on recent estimates, it’s believed that the number of Alzheimer’s patients will triple by 2050. Our health care system is already under stress and if rising rates do not improve, a boom in Alzheimer’s patients could be devastating — both economically and socially.
Of course, declining rates will result in less burden in terms of the health care system and family support, but there’s something more critical to understand here. If something is changing over generations, resulting in this decline, it’s critical that it is identified. In turn, this could help researchers develop a potential cure.
Think of it this way — if the rate of dementia in 2012 was the same as it was in 2000, there would be more than 1 million additional dementia patients. As mentioned, researchers reported that education may be a key factor. On average, older adults within the 2012 group appeared to have approximately one year more education than the 2000 group.
As education increases, individuals can not only take proactive measures, but this level of education can produce greater cognitive reserve. Meaning, individuals can build backup synapses and neurons that may reduce their risk of full-blown dementia. Although this may be a key contributing factor, the researchers found that this did not explain the entire decline.
The take home message here is — based on current falling rates of dementia, it appears that there are modifiable factors that you can personally implement into your life. By increasing education surrounding Alzheimer’s and improving cardiovascular health, it’s apparent that you could directly reduce your chances of developing this degenerative condition.
Treat yourself well today, so that you experience many healthy, high-quality years in the future.
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