Are Dementia Cases Declining?

Despite fears of a looming dementia epidemic as baby boomers enter their retirement years, new research suggests that new dementia cases may have actually declined in recent years.    A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reflected this recent trend by comparing dementia rates between 2000 and 2012 and finding a net drop in new cases.   The study was carried out by a research team led by researcher Kenneth Larga of the University of Michigan Medical School using data taken from a nationwide study of 21000 U.S. adults 65 or older.  According to their findings, overall prevalence of dementia dropped from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012.    

This declining dementia rate occurred despite a significant rise in cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, factors that have been traditionally associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and related conditions.   On the other hand, level of education may be acting as a protective factor since average years of education appear to have increased during that same period from 11.8 years of education in 2000 to 12.7 years in 2012.   No other factors have emerged at this point to explain why this drop in dementia cases may be occurring.  

At this point, it is still unclear exactly why dementia appears to be on the decline and whether this trend will continue over time.   Though better preventive health care and increased awareness of health risks may  be having an impact in preventing or delaying new cases of dementia, other health risks, including diabetes and obesity, are still on the increase and may well offset whatever gains are being made in dementia care.   Certainly the fears that have been previously raised of health care systems worldwide being overwhelmed may still come to pass as these new health risks manifest themselves in new cardiovascular cases.

For now, all we can do is watch how things unfold in the years to come.   Will there still be a dementia pandemic or not?


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