As we get older, certain health issues become more prevalent. Among them is dementia. However, a new study finds that a smaller percentage of older adults is developing the disease.
Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that between 2000 and 2016, the prevalence of dementia among Americans aged 65 and older fell by 3.7 percentage points. The figures were also down for a variety of demographics studied. The RAND Corporation compiled the data through a new model assessing cognitive status based on measures from more than 21,000 participants in the national Health and Retirement Study. The nonprofit says the findings indicate the impacts of dementia may not be quite as strong in the years to come.
Peter Hudomiet, lead author and economist at RAND, says, “The reasons for the decline in the prevalence of dementia are not certain, but this trend is good news for older Americans and the systems that support them. This decline may help reduce the expected strain on families, nursing homes, and other support systems as the American population ages.”
The reduced rates were found largely across the board, with the prevalence in men falling from 10.2 percent to 7 percent. Among non-Hispanic white men, the figure went from 9.3 percent to 6.6 percent, with non-Hispanic Black men seeing a substantial decrease of 17.2 percent to 9.9 percent.
Meanwhile, for women, who make up a larger portion of dementia patients, the rate went from 13.6 percent to 9.7 percent. The disparities between non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Black women did not narrow as much as they did for men, however.
The researchers found that higher education attainment has played a role in the lower rates. In 2000, only 21.5 percent of male study participants were college-educated. That jumped to 33.7 percent by 2016. At the same time, the figure for women increased from 12.3 percent to 23 percent. The team says this accounted for 40 percent of the reduction in dementia rates among men and 20 percent among women.
The researchers believe expanding education opportunities to more people may help decrease figures further and address disparities.
Hudomiet explains, “Closing the education gap across racial and ethnic groups may be a powerful tool to reduce some health inequalities and dementia differences in particular, an important public health policy goal.”
Funding for the study came from the National Institute on Aging. To read more, click here.