Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Senior Citizens Less Likely to Get Dementia,
Alzheimer’s, Says New Study
Dementia in aging populations have declined,
particularly in older people most likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease
28, 2013 - The holiday season has certainly been made a happy
one for senior citizens by the research news that says several recent
studies show how age-adjusted rates for dementia in aging populations
have declined, particularly in those older people most likely to develop
dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The article in the
New England Journal of
Medicine also describes what researchers have reported to be
associated with this encouraging trend.
“This is good news because it means the average
75-year-old today may be less likely than a 75-year-old in 1993 to
suffer from this devastating condition,” 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.
The authors are
Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, executive director of Group Health Research
Group Health’s vice president for research;
Kristine Yaffe, MD, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and
epidemiology and biostatistics, the Roy and Marie Scola endowed chair in
psychiatry, and vice chair for clinical and translational research in
psychiatry at the
University of California, San Francisco and the
San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center; and
“Of course, people are tending to live longer,
with worldwide populations aging, so there are many new cases of
dementia,” Dr. Larson said. “But some seem to be developing it at later
ages—and we’re optimistic about this lengthening of the time that people
can live without dementia.” Dementia in those affected may be starting
later in the course of life, closer to the time of death.
In 2008, Drs. 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 the decline tracked with education, income, and
improvements in health care and lifestyle. Since then, several studies
in Europe have confirmed this trend—and the reasons behind it.
“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,” Dr. Langa said.
He added that it will be very important to continue
to follow these trends in the population given the wide-ranging impact
of dementia on patients, families, and the health care system.
“This is a fascinating example of personal health
changes earlier in life having an impact on personal and public health
in late life,” Dr. Yaffe said. She and Dr. Larson have reported that
regular exercise may help delay dementia.
In an earlier
publication this year in the
New England Journal,
Dr. Larson’s team reported that people with lower blood sugar levels
tend to have less risk of dementia. And Dr. Yaffe and her team have
focused on a
host of other lifestyle factors that have the potential to reduce
“Still, we need to be aware that recent increases
in obesity and diabetes threaten to reverse these gains, because of the
impact these conditions can have on the aging brain,” Dr. Yaffe said.
“The obesity and diabetes epidemics are not affecting age groups most at
risk for dementia—yet.” But it’s just a matter of time.
“To help more people avoid dementia, we’ll need to
find better ways of preventing obesity—and avoiding obesity-linked
health risks, including diabetes and dementia,” Dr. Larson said.
Narrowing health disparities will also be crucial, because obesity and
diabetes are more common among certain racial and ethnic minorities and
others who lack access to education and health care.
“As luck would have it, preventing obesity and
diabetes jibes with preventing dementia,” Dr. Larson said. “In other
words, we must focus on exercise, diet, education, treating
hypertension, and quitting smoking.”
On December 11, the
New England Journal of
Medicine will post a podcast of Dr. Larson discussing this
perspective piece, and that day he and Dr. Yaffe will also address the
U.K. Department of Health’s
G8 Dementia Summit in London. The Summit aims to develop coordinated
global action on dementia.
The researchers 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,” adds Langa.
“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.”
In his blog, Langa adds, “We concluded that this
decreased risk is likely due to a number of changes 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 better control
of the risk factors that cause heart disease, which are also risk
factors for Alzheimer’s.”
a related blog post by Dr. Langa: "On the list of possible dementia
busters: An educated mom, robust social life and delaying retirement."
Group Health Research
Group Health Research Institute does practical research that helps
people like you and your family stay healthy. The Institute is the
research arm of Seattle-based
Group Health Cooperative, a consumer-governed, nonprofit health care
system. Founded in 1947, Group Health Cooperative coordinates health
care and coverage. Group Health Research Institute changed its name from
Group Health Center for Health Studies in 2009. Now celebrating its 30th
anniversary year, the Institute has conducted nonproprietary
public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major
health problems since 1983. Government and private research grants
provide its main funding.
University of California, San Francisco
UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide
through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the
life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It
includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and
pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic
biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a
preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-ranked hospitals,
UCSF Medical Center and
UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
University of Michigan
School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of General
General Medicine, the largest division within the University of
Michigan's Department of Internal Medicine, supports the mission of the
Medical School by providing excellence and innovation in patient care,
teaching, and research.
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