Study Finds the Rate of Dementia Is Declining

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The rate of dementia among thousands of seniors steadily declined over three decades, according to a study that gives what researchers call “cautious hope” that Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases need not be the bane of our ever-lengthening lives. 

The rate of dementia among the study’s participants fell by an average of 20% per decade, according to an article to be published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, and the average age of dementia onset was pushed back from 80 to 85 years.

“Our study offers cautious hope that some cases of dementia might be preventable or at least delayed,” the article concludes.

Even cautious hope is welcomed.

More than 5 million Americans are now living with some form of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

As the number of baby boomers continues to swell, that number is predicted to triple by midcentury.

In 2015, some 110,000 Wisconsinites over 65 had Alzheimer’s.

Because there is no treatment or cure, all will die either with or from the disease.

The lead author of the journal article — Claudia L. Satizabal, an instructor at Boston University School of Medicine — and her co-authors analyzed data from 5,205 people 60 or older participating in the Framingham Heart Study, which started in 1948 and has been extended to the original participants’ children and grandchildren.

The dementia study, which reached back to 1975, broke the ensuing years into four periods, which the researchers called “epochs.”

More than 2,000 people contributed data to each epoch. Group members were overwhelmingly white. Their ages ranged from 60 to 101.

■The first epoch extended from the late 1970s into the early 1980s. The rate of dementia during that period was 3.6 people per 100. The average age of dementia onset was 80.

■The second epoch extended from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. The rate of dementia during that period was 2.8 per 100, a rate decrease of 22%. The average age of onset was 82.

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Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Crocker Stephenson