U.S. Dementia Rates Plunge 24% Despite Aging Population

Elderly woman in the kitchen

Even though researchers feared the U.S. dementia rates would boom as the population ages, a large national survey suggests a reversed trend. According to the survey, dementia dropped 24 percent and people now develop the condition at older ages.

The study’s results are in line with past research that detected a similar trend. However, past studies weren’t as comprehensive and diverse as the latest survey. The new study revealed that U.S. dementia rates in population aged 65 or older dropped 24 percent between 2000 and 2012. Researchers said the findings were “statistically significant and impressive.”

Dementia Rates Can be Reversed

In 2002, 11.6 percent of the 65+ population lived with dementia. That figure slipped to 8.8 percent 12 years alter. Moreover, in 2000, the average age of a dementia diagnosis was 80.7. Twelve years later, the average age rose to 82.4. Researchers put the figure into context. They said that if the dementia rates in 2000 would have still been valid, people aged 65 or over that don’t have dementia now might have had it.

On researcher noted that dementia is not a fatality. “It can change,” said Dr. Richard Hodes of the National Institute on Aging. Keith Fargo the Alzheimer’s Association cheered at the news. He acknowledge his association was skeptic about similar trends in past studies. The latest survey, however, convinced him because the data was nationally representative.

“It’s wonderful news,”

Fargo said.

According to official statistics, about 4 million to 5 million people in the U.S. learn they have dementia every year. Dementia, a devastating neurodegenerative condition, is the most expensive disease in the nation. The National Institute on Aging found that the U.S.A. had to fork out $215 billion in 2010 to care for dementia-stricken patients. By contrast, heart disease costs about $102 billion every year and cancer $77 billion.

The latest research involved 21,000 Americans aged 65 and over belonging to all races, social status, and education levels.  Scientists extracted data from the Health and Retirement Study.

In the survey, participants agreed to name 10 nouns immediately, and performs a series of subtractions. They also counted backward from 20. Researchers explained these simple tests are powerful tools to assess memory and cognitive skills. Researchers also surveyed volunteers on education level, health, and income.

Surprising Findings

The research team noted the results were a surprise. Dementia rates dropped despite an aging population and a huge surge in diabetes rates. Between 1990 and 2012, diabetes rates in America skyrocketed from 9 percent to 21 percent. Past studies showed diabetes can boost dementia risk by 39 percent.

In addition, older people are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease nowadays than they were 12 years ago. Rates of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol also increased. These factors are also on the risk factor list for dementia. Study investigators think that medication for these conditions might have indirectly reduced dementia rates.

The study also found obese and overweight people were 30 percent likely of developing dementia than people of normal weight. Underweight Americans, however, had a twofold risk.

The findings appeared Nov. 21 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The National Institute on Aging sponsored the research but it had no other involvement in it.

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