An article in the USA Today reports on a study from the University of Michigan that shows a sharp decline in the rate of dementia in recent years. Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the U of M and one of the co-authors of the study, says that the good news is we can do something to reduce the risk. He states that, “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.”
Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the Health and Retirement Study extensively interviewed and tested over 21,000 people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds and incomes throughout the country. Begun in 1992, it reports a drop in dementia rates from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012 in people 65 years and older (average age of participant was 75). Furthermore, these findings support other research that also indicates a decline in the rates of dementia in both the U.S. and Europe.
While researchers are not entirely certain why rates have declined, they suggest the improved brain health of Americans is most likely a combination of higher levels of education and better heart health. They cite findings that show the average education level among participants in 2012 was 13 years, while in 2000 the average level of education was 12 years. Another reason may be that doctors can better control conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes that can lead to an increased risk of vascular dementia.
However, while this is encouraging news, Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, states, “Alzheimer’s is going to remain the public health crisis of our time, even with modestly reduced rates.” The full study is published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.
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