Huge Decline in Dementia Among Older Adults Contradicts Predictions

If the rate of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) in 2012 was what it was in 2000, then there’d be a million more people with dementia, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Instead the rate of dementia declined from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012. That perplexes policymakers almost as much as it pleases them. The prevailing wisdom posited that aging baby boomers would triple the number of Alzheimer’s patients by 2050. University of Michigan researches analyzed 10,500 Health and Retirement Study participants aged 65 or older in 2000 and 2012.

The study suggests that dementia will place less of a burden on the health care system than previously thought, and also that something has changed over the generations, though linking cause and effect remains a challenge. It might have something to do with “cognitive reserve,” a tendency toward lifelong education, although researchers point out that “it should be noted that the relationships among education, brain biology, and cognitive function are complex and likely multidirectional….”

The study also states that “increasing educational attainment and better control of cardiovascular risk factors may have contributed to the improvement, but the full set of social, behavioral, and medical factors contributing to the improvement is still uncertain.”

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine