People are less likely to experience dementia and Alzheimer’s disease today than they were 20 years ago, and those who do may be developing it later in life. That is what a new perspective article that examines the positive trends in dementia says in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Authors examined five recent studies that suggest a decrease in the prevalence of dementia, crediting the positive trend to improvements in education levels, health care and lifestyle.
“We’re very encouraged to see a growing number of studies from around the world that suggest that the risk of dementia may be falling due to rising levels of education and better prevention and treatment of key cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol,” says co-author Kenneth Langa, a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School.
“Our findings suggest that, even if we don’t find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, there are social and lifestyle factors we can address to decrease our risk.”
Authors point to two key factors that may explain the decreased risk of dementia over the last few decades: People are completing more years of school, which helps the brain fight off dementia; and there’s more awareness and focus on preventing heart disease, another big risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
“The growing number of older adults in the U.S. and around the world means we will undoubtedly see a significant growth in the number of people with dementia, however the good news is they appear to be living longer without experiencing it,” says Langa.
“We are seeing a positive trend that suggests that improving our physical and mental health go hand in hand with fighting off this devastating condition.”
In 2008, Langa and a colleague reported one of the first studies suggesting a decline in U.S. dementia rates, using information from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. They found that decline tracked with education and improvements in health care and lifestyle. Since then, several studies in Europe have confirmed this trend — and the reasons behind it.
Other research has also shown that other factors decreasing risk include early and ongoing education, physical activity, retiring later, educated parents especially an educated mother, maintaining social activities and getting treatment for depression.