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Mar 08, 2016

Decline in Dementia Rates Over Past Three Decades

Study analyzed data on trends in older adults in the Framingham Heart Study.

There’s promising news for dementia, based on a recent analysis showing a decline in dementia rates over the past three decades.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, this study looked at dementia trends among participants of the Framingham Heart Study. Since 1948, the Framingham Heart Study has tracked the health of thousands of residents in Framingham, Massachusetts, as well as their children.

Using data collected by this study, researchers analyzed dementia trends from the 1970s through early 2010s. During this time, more than 5,200 adults over 60 completed psychological testing to assess memory loss and cognitive decline. 

The good news is that compared to the late 1970s and early 80s, dementia rates declined by 22%, 38% and 44% in subsequent decades. This implies a steady and progressive decrease in dementia rates among participants since the 1970s. However, further analysis showed that this decline occurred among adults with a high school diploma.

Risk factors like high blood pressure and stroke also decreased during the study period, which likely contributed to the decline in dementia rates.

Since this study included mostly white adults, trends do not necessarily apply to the general U.S. population. Still, findings are promising, according to experts.

There are a number of risk factors for dementia that we can control, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Findings confirm that addressing risk factors like high blood pressure help reduce risk for dementia.

With an aging population, the prevention of dementia is important. Dementia is the leading cause of dependence and disability in the elderly population worldwide. Through education and better risk management, experts hope to help patients prevent dementia and reduce rates worldwide.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is dementia?
  • Dementia includes a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking and social skills and that interfere with normal daily functioning. Common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty finding words, personality changes and inability to reason. It’s important to see a doctor if you or a loved one experiences symptoms, as some causes can be treated.
  • What are risk factors for dementia?
  • Some risk factors for dementia can’t be controlled, such as age, family history and down syndrome. However, there are many risk factors that can be controlled, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use. It’s important to address any risk factors you may have to reduce risk for dementia and other serious conditions.

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