More than 5,000 people followed for almost 40 years starting in the mid-1970s experienced an average 20% reduction in their risk of developing dementia, a new study suggests.
At the same time, the average age at which the participants fell prey to dementia rose, from about 80 in the late 1970s to age 85 in more recent years, added study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri. She is a professor of neurology at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
Despite these findings, the United States still faces a dementia crisis with the aging of the baby boom generation, Seshadri noted.
As many as 5.2 million Americans 65 and older are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. And these numbers are expected to rise with the aging population, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Seshadri said that even though the average age of dementia shifted upward during the course of the study, there are more people over the age of 85 now than there were people older than 80 decades ago.
“People are going to live to be older and be at greater risk of developing dementia,” Seshadri said. “It’s not that the burden of disease is going to decrease but it may not be exploding quite as rapidly as we feared.”
However, the study offered some important clues about ways to prevent or delay dementia, she said.
Education and heart health appear to have contributed to the decline in dementia cases, the study found. Only people with at least a high school diploma experienced a significant decline in their risk for dementia. Also, the researchers observed an improvement in overall heart health that paralleled the reduction in dementia risk.
The data revealed that in subjects with at least a high school diploma, dementia cases declined by 22% by the 1980s, 38% by the 1990s, and 44% by the 2000s when compared to the first decade. The findings were published Feb. 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The correlation with education is fascinating. I suspect that it really about keeping the mind engaged in problem solving that delays or reduces the risk of dementia. Previous studies have pointed to mind games like crossword puzzles and Sudoku as deterrents. I think reading is also a positive factor.
The heart health issue also makes sense – you have to maintain good blood flow to the brain to keep it healthy. However, heart disease is on the rise in this country but again so is our average age. On the flip side, the rate of obesity levelled off in 2000 and the rate of type 2 diabetes did the same in 2010. Maybe, just maybe we are turning a corner, a least some of us.
The Bottom Line:
Staying mentally engaged and reducing any aspects of metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and obesity) are your best tools to ward off dementia.
Source: February 10, 2016 National Institutes of Health