A newly released study has found dementia cases amongst Americans has dropped significantly in recent years due to rising educational levels and improved heart health, both factors in better brain health.
A JAMA Internal Medicine study of more than 21,000 Americans found that the rate of dementia in people over age 65 dropped from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, which marks a dramatic fall of 24 percent.
“It’s definitely good news,” said Dr. Kenneth Langa, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a coauthor of the new study. “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.”
The drop in the rate of dementia means about one million fewer Americans are affected by the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which sponsored the study.
Dementia entails a deterioration of memory recall and other mental abilities that complicate daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease, which is a condition that falls under dementia, is sourced by a buildup of tangles and plaques in the brain and is the most common form of dementia.
Vascular dementia is the second most common kind of dementia and is caused by strokes.
The latest study backs the results of a number of other studies that have detected consistent declines in the rate of dementia in the United States and Europe. The study’s wide scope and evaluation of study participants from a varied range of incomes and ethnic groups indicates there has indeed been a dramatic decline in the rate of dementia in the American population.
The average age of study participants, named the Health and Retirement Study, was 75.
The study began in 1992 and targeted people over age 50 — it gathered data every two years. Study evaluators would interview participants about their income, life circumstances, health, and cognitive ability. Researchers would also conduct physical tests, collect blood and saliva samples and take body measurements.