The New England Journal of Medicine reports the PERCENTAGE of people with Alzheimer’s is going down. That’s good news for individuals. Ironically, better health means more seniors. Consequently, there is a higher TOTAL number of people with Alzheimer’s, even as the percentage drops. Find out what this means to you and 6 ways to stay healthy.
People are less likely to experience dementia and Alzheimer’s disease today than they were 20 years ago — and those who do may be developing it later in life — says a perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine that examines the positive trends in dementia.
Authors examined five recent studies that suggest a decrease in the prevalence of dementia, crediting the positive trend to improvements in education levels, health care and lifestyle.
“We’re very encouraged to see a growing number of studies from around the world that suggest that the risk of dementia may be falling due to rising levels of education and better prevention and treatment of key cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol,” says co-author Kenneth Langa, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of Internal Medicine at the U-M Medical School and research investigator at the Center for Clinical Management Research (CCMR), VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
“Our findings suggest that, even if we don’t find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, there are social and lifestyle factors we can address to decrease our risk.”
Authors also include Eric B. Larson, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of Group Health Research Institute and Group Health’s vice president for research; and Kristine Yaffe, M.D., a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. Larson is also an adjunct professor at the University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Public Health.
Authors point to two key factors that may explain the decreased risk of dementia over the last few decades: People are completing more years of school, which helps the brain fight off dementia; and there’s more awareness and focus on preventing heart disease, another big risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
“The growing number of older adults in the U.S. and around the world means we will undoubtedly see a significant growth in the number of people with dementia, however the good news is they appear to be living longer without experiencing it,” says Langa, who is also a member of the U-M Institute for Social Research, Institute of Gerontology and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
“We are seeing a positive trend that suggests that improving our physical and mental health go hand in hand with fighting off this devastating condition.”
In 2008, Langa and Larson reported one of the first studies suggesting a decline in U.S. dementia rates, using information from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. They found that decline tracked with education and improvements in health care and lifestyle. Since then, several studies in Europe have confirmed this trend — and the reasons behind it.
Other research has also shown that other factors decreasing risk include early and ongoing education, physical activity, retiring later, educated parents (especially an educated mother), maintaining social activities and getting treatment for depression.
Key Factors in Preventing & Delaying Alzheimer’s
In Dr. Langa’s blog, some of the other factors that may delay or prevent Alzheimer’s include:
• Cardiovascular risk: What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Controlling risk factors that contribute to heart disease, such as:
- high cholesterol,
• Education: Early-life education seems important in decreasing risk, as does keeping your mind active and learning new things throughout adulthood, and even in older age. It was once thought that the brain couldn’t be changed later in life, but newer research suggests that the brain remains “plastic” and exercising your brain can lead to healthier brain cells and more connections between those cells.
• Physical activity: One more reason to make exercise a priority. Moving and maintaining a healthy weight seem to influence your brain’s health too.
• Keeping your day job: Retiring from your job later in life may also keep your brain active and healthy longer.
• Treating Depression: A depressed mood may increase one’s risk of having thinking problems and cognitive decline, so seeking help for depression may be important, both for addressing the depressed mood itself and possibly for reducing the future risk of dementia.
• Social Life: Playing cards, talking with friends, joining a book club, and going to religious services may keep your brain healthy by increasing social interactions and “exercising” your brain more than you would have by being alone.
For more brain-healthy ideas, check out:
100 Simple Tips to Prevent Alzheimer’s & Memory Loss .