As the population increases and the baby boomer generation continually ages, we hear a lot about human health and more specifically, age-related dementia. This condition, which is most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s, currently affects approximately 44 million people worldwide.
It’s a shocking reality, but according to a new study, rates of dementia have actually declined. Since dementia-related news is often negative, it’s refreshing to hear a more encouraging, positive trend. Published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study may showcase a step in the right direction.
Study Finds — Dementia Rates Have Significantly Decreased
This particular study examined 10,500 American adults who were aged 65 and older between the years 2000 and 2012. These subjects had previously participated in the Health and Retirement Study, a prior longitudinal project. Based on this data, it was found that dementia rates fell from 11.6 percent in 2000, to 8.8 percent in 2012.
Think about that for a moment — if the rate of dementia in 2012 was the same as it was in 2000, there would be more than 1 million additional Americans living with dementia. Considering at least 5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s, you can imagine the strain in which an additional million would place on the health care system, as well as general family support.
So, what is it that is causing rates to decline?
Perhaps this is the most important question to ask ourselves, as contributing factors could potentially lead to a cure — or at least a more thorough understanding of dementia in terms of its development. While focusing on declining rates, the researchers pointed to higher education as one possible factor.
More years of formal education are being associated with a reduced risk, based on a number of pathways. It appears that the general population has also been paying attention, implementing strategies to improve their health. Of course, our lifestyle choices can directly influence the function and development of our brain — which is what we may be seeing here.
Not only were participants more likely to have a high school or college degree in comparison to those in 2000, but overall, related information has simply become much more accessible. While focusing specifically on higher education, it appears that these individuals may experience greater cognitive reserve.
Meaning, they may have enough backup neurons and synapses to reduce their risk of dementia.
Perhaps one of the greatest control factors is the link between cardiovascular health and dementia.
Reducing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease in general, may also be contributing to these recent trends.
It’s well understood that heart health influences the brain, especially while focusing on vascular-related dementia. Although this is a key starting point, the researchers haven’t yet pieced together the big picture. What they do know is, falling rates of dementia are likely linked to modifiable factors, including both cardiovascular health and education.
Are We In the Clear?
I hate to break up this positive news with more negativity, but it’s important to note that dementia is still a major growing threat and just because this recent study showed a decline, this does not mean that fewer individuals will be living with dementia in the future. Based on the aging population, it’s expected that rates will triple by 2050, as there will be growth within the senior population.
For now, it’s important to take proactive measures, protecting your future health — both physical and mental. That means, you should:
- Consume a balanced, nutrient-rich diet — include a range of raw foods in your diet, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It appears that certain dietary elements may offer protective effects, including key antioxidants, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Maintain a healthy weight — obesity places your heart health at risk, which in turn threatens brain health. When you adopt a truly balanced diet, a healthy weight will generally follow. Considering mid-life obesity doubles your risk of developing dementia later in life, this is an imperative place to start.
- Exercise on a regular basis in order to once again, maintain a healthy weight and improve overall cognition. Several studies have reported the effect of exercise on middle-aged to older adults, documenting improvements in both thinking and memory.
- Quit smoking — cigarettes are bad for nearly every system in your body, including your heart, lungs, brain, and overall vascular system. Once again, researchers believe that smoking will double your risk in comparison to non-smokers, side by some researches conclude that their are numerous areas where the human brain fact are still uncovered. The same is true for those who drink in excess — which can often result in impaired cognitive function and neurological damage.
The take away here is, when it comes to the development of dementia, there does appear to be modifiable factors. Although we still have miles to go, we are making strides and as more research is conducted, we’re getting closer to the answers we seek. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions, as always, it’s important to take a proactive approach in comparison to reactive action.
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2587084 http://www.alzheimers.net/resources/alzheimers-statistics/ https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=2661