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U.S. Dementia Rates Are Dropping Even as Population Ages


A MRI scan of the brain of a 64-year-old patient, showing evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.Credit Zephyr/Science Source

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I wonder how close medicine is to finding cures.

""The study found associations, Dr. Hodes noted. “Now the real challenge,” he said, “is to see if we can generate evidence of what causes what.”"

Cool. Reddit comments suggest that leaded gasoline might have been a contributor.

Top Reddit comment:

Link to the full paper in JAMA Internal Medicine is here.

Population brain health seemed to improve between 2000 and 2012; 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.

Comparing a cohort of 21,057 people (included all Health and Retirement Study participants aged 65 or older, living in the community or in nursing homes in 2000 and 2012. There were 10,546 respondents in 2000 and 10,516 respondents in 2012, respectively), the risk of dementia dropped from 11.6% to 8.8% between the year 2000 and 2012. 

A comparison of the odds ratios for dementia found that the risk of dementia was significantly decreased with both increasing education and wealth. Interestingly, a slight association was also found between BMI, with overweight and obese individuals having a slightly lower occurrence of dementia than those with normal or underweight BMI. 

In total, this amounted to approximately 200,000 fewer cases of dementia in 2012 versus 2000.

1000+ Reddit comments:

"Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, said the group had been encouraged by some of the previous research showing a decline but had also been “a little bit nervous” about drawing conclusions because the populations in the earlier studies were so homogeneous.

Now, he said of the new data, “here is a nationally representative study. It’s wonderful news.”

"The study, published online Monday by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, included 21,000 Americans 65 and older across all races, education and income levels, who participate in the Health and Retirement Study, which regularly surveys people and follows them as they age. The National Institute on Aging funded the work but was not involved with the data collection, analysis or interpretation.

To assess dementia, participants were asked, among other things, to recall 10 nouns immediately and after a delay, to serially subtract seven from 100, and to count backward from 20. The test was based on extensive research indicating it was a good measure of memory and thinking skills."

"An estimated four million to five million Americans develop dementia each year. It remains the most expensive disease in America — a study funded by the National Institute on Aging estimated that in 2010 it cost up to $215 billion a year to care for dementia patients, surpassing heart disease ($102 billion) and cancer ($77 billion)."

Five million every year?! So more people develop dementia than die every year?!

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