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Dementia rates 'falling' in some countries

Dementia rates 'falling' in some countries
12th December 2016

Dementia rates could be falling across the UK, US and Europe, according to new research. A study has found that the number of older people in the US being diagnosed with a form of dementia has dropped, which supports similar findings across the UK and Europe.

Published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the findings suggest that the dementia crisis may not be as bad as was initially thought. Data taken from 21,057 people aged over 65 in the US revealed that the percentage of people with dementia in 2012 was only 8.8 per cent, compared to 11.6 per cent in the year 2000.

The study suggested that higher levels of education are helping to protect the brain from the disease, as the average time older adults spent in education increased as dementia rates fell. Older adults spent an average of 12.7 years in school or university in 2012 compared to 11.8 years in 2000. 

Education has been thought to play a role in staving off dementia due to the mental challenge it presents, which could help prevent brain cells from dying later on in life. It is also possible that increased time in education allows the brain to rewire itself in order to compensate for dying neurons, preventing dementia symptoms from appearing. 

Similar research was published in the journal Lancet Neurology in 2015, which showed that the number of dementia sufferers in the UK had fallen, while the disease rates among Spanish men had also declined, while they had stabilised in other European countries. 

Professor Kenneth Langa, from the University of Michigan, said: "Our results add to a growing body of evidence that this decline in dementia risk is a real phenomenon, and that the expected future growth in the burden of dementia may not be as extensive as once thought."

Despite the positive findings for dementia, the study also revealed that high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity all increased in older people from 2000 to 2012. 

Professor Carol Brayne, who was responsible for the European analysis, said that this latest research provides good evidence that some countries are seeing a decline in dementia cases. She also agreed that education seemed to be an important factor in stopping the disease or deferring it in later life. 

She said to BBC News: "These findings are incredibly important for the world and underlie the importance of access to education.

"But it is likely to be a combination of risk factors - better health from conception, vaccinations, access to education, medical care, not smoking - that taken together will have an impact."

Professor Brayne continued to say that looking into factors that could help stave off dementia will help to improve understanding of the disease and could ensure that we do not go backwards.