In a hopeful sign for the health of the nation’s brains, the percentage of American seniors with dementia is dropping, a new study finds.
The downward trend has emerged despite something else the study shows: a rising tide of three factors that are thought to raise dementia risk by interfering with brain blood flow, namely diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
[Photo: Dr. Kenneth Langa]
Those with the most years of education had the lowest chances of developing dementia, according to the findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine by a team from the University of Michigan. This may help explain the larger trend, because today’s seniors are more likely to have at least a high school diploma than those in the same age range a decade ago.
With the largest generation in American history now entering the prime years for dementia onset, the new results add to a growing number of recent studies in the United States and other countries that suggest a downward trend in dementia prevalence. These findings may help policy-makers and economic forecasters adjust their predictions for the total impact of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.
“Our results, based on in-depth interviews with seniors and their caregivers, add to a growing body of evidence that this decline in dementia risk is a real phenomenon, and that the expected future growth in the burden of dementia may not be as extensive as once thought,” says lead author Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor in the U-M Medical School, School of Public Health; faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, and research investigator at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
“A change in the overall dementia forecast can have a major economic impact,” he adds. “But it does nothing to lessen the impact that each case has on patients and caregivers. This is still going to be a top priority issue for families, and for health policy, now and in the coming decades.”