Although the aging of the population is causing an epidemic of dementia, a new review of the literature suggests that the age-specific incidence of the condition is actually falling. The trend appears to be a result of improvements in education levels, healthcare, and lifestyle.
Writing in a perspective published online November 27 in theNew England Journal of Medicine, a group led by Eric B. Larson MD, from the Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, cite 5 recent studies all documenting declining rates of age-standardized dementia during the last 30 years.
The studies, including 1 by 2 of the current authors, found that the decline tracked with early and ongoing education and improvements in healthcare and lifestyle. Factors that appeared to be associated with a reduced risk for dementia included physical activity, reducing vascular risk factors, retiring later, educated parents (especially an educated mother), maintaining social activities, and getting treatment for depression. Recent data from Scandinavia suggests recent reductions in age-specific incidence of dementia.
My Take: I agree with the authors: Research on preventing late-life dementias should explore ways of reducing risk factors at both the societal and the personal levels. We don’t know the extent to which better risk-factor control can reduce dementia rates. However, a potentially ominous trend that could lead to a reversal of the decrease in risk is the growing prevalence of obesity and diabetes among middle-aged and younger people. As for me, I’ll continue to focus on physical activity, avoiding being overwworking, and maintaining social activities. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.
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Reference: N Eng J Med. Published online November 27, 2013. Abstract