A recent report published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the number of adults affected by dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, declined from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012, nearly a 25% decrease. Researchers analyzed over 10,000 Americans who were at least 65 years of age from different parts of the country and with different socioeconomic backgrounds, making the research more diverse and even more convincing.
The decline is great overall, but specifically, because it lets researchers know that something has changed over the generations, which could help lead to a specific cause and drive down those numbers even more. Not to mention, the decline helps alleviate the burden on the health care system and families.
A possible explanation for this drastic decline is education. In 2000, the average years of education was 11.8, just shy of the 12 years it takes to receive a high school diploma. In 2012, the average was 12.7, meaning just pass a high school degree with some college. A higher education produces a greater cognitive reserve, essentially a backup of synapses and neurons, and it produces stronger and greater connections between nerve cells in the brain. Education seems to play a big factor in the decrease of dementia, but it is not the only reason for the decline.
Curiously enough, this study found that being obese or overweight later in life was associated with a lower risk of dementia. Generally, being overweight carries the risk of diabetes and heart disease, which are risk factors for dementia, but later in life obesity can actually protect against dementia. This is especially true because people are receiving more aggressive treatments for diabetes and heart disease, which have become more common and more effective over the generations.
As baby boomers crawl closer to the 65 year age group, the number of people diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s was set to nearly triple. If the rate of dementia had been what it was in 2000, there would be a larger number of additional people with dementia in 2012. This is clearly not the case. This type of research shows us that that are clearly modifiable factors that could possibly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, leading us closer to answers about the disease.