New Studies Suggest that Alzheimer's Rate is Declining
Three new studies offer different pictures of what’s going on with Alzheimer’s disease. Two of these studies appear to offer hope, while the third – which is out of the United States - -suggests that Baby Boomers over the age of 60 are experiencing worsening memory loss.
First the bad news. A study released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in eight Americans who are older than 60 reported that they are suffering from memory loss. The study, which involved 59,000 participants who lived in 21 states, involved a self-report of memory loss. The researchers learned that almost 13 percent said of these study participants said they were confused or had memory loss occurring more frequently or getting worse during the previous year. This subgroup also said that confusion or memory loss caused issues with work, social activities or household chores. Interestingly, only 35 percent of study participants had discussed their memory lapses or confusion with their doctor.
So now for the good news - two new studies have found that dementia rates in parts of the world are actually declining. A study out of Great Britain found that the rate of dementia diagnosed among people who were at least 65 years and older in England and Wales decreased by 25 percent during the past 20 years. The previous rate was 8.3 percent and has now dropped to 6.2 percent. Researchers believe this trend may be occurring in many developed countries.
Furthermore, Danish researchers found that Danes in their 90s who went through a standard test of mental ability in 2010 actually did much better than people who were in their 90s a decade earlier. Their analysis also found that about 25 percent of the people who were assessed in 2010 achieved scores that were at the highest level. This performance was twice as high as participants who were tested in 1998. Furthermore, the percentage of participants who were found to be severely impaired was 17 percent in 2010, a five percent decrease from 1998.
So what are the takeaways from these three studies?
- Experts believe that the Danish study and the British study, which are considered strong and credible, confirm that when the population is healthier and better educated, rates of dementia fall. Previous studies have found lower incidence of dementia among people with higher levels of education as well as those who control their blood pressure and cholesterol.
- There’s definitely a stigma about dementia, as evidenced by the United States study where many participants did not discuss their fears with their doctors.
- The U.S. study does not mean that these Baby Boomers have dementia. However, it does mean that they are aware of some loss, which may be caused by a number of factors ranging from lack of sleep and stress to more serious health situations, such as a stroke or mild cognitive impairment. So in some cases, these memory issues can be lessened or even eradicated.
And these studies should further serve as notice that proactive steps may help you avoid cognitive decline. The National Institute on Aging recommends the following:
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Engage in social activities.
- Engage in intellectually stimulating activities.
- Control type 2 diabetes.
- Lower high blood pressure levels.
- Lower high blood cholesterol levels.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Stop smoking.
- Get treatment for depression.
Furthermore, the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation recommends following what they call the 4 Pillars of Prevention:
- Diet and supplements, which provide the brain with the proper nutrition, blood flow, energy and care. The diet should include foods high in antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, fish that is rich in omega-3 oils and vegetarian protein substitutes. The foundation recommends a specific diet breakdown that includes: 20 percent good fats (extra virgin olive oil, avocado and flax seed oil); 40 percent lean proteins 9fish, chicken, turkey and soy); 40 percent complex carbohydrates (fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fresh fruits); and unlimited super foods (blueberries, spinach and seaweed). The foundation also recommends taking a high potency multiple vitamin and mineral capsule that includes folic acid and vitamin C. The foundation also recommends considering taking memory-specific nutrients, such as coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, ginkgo biloba, phosphatidylserine, DHA (an omega-3 oil), and acetyl-L-carnitine.
- Stress management, which negates the effects of the daily grind on the brain. Examples of stress-management techniques include massage, prayer, deep breathing, hypnosis, guided imagery, visualization and meditation.
- Exercising the body and the brain. As far as physical activity, aim for 150 minutes weekly of cardio exercise and strength training. Also, participate in “brain aerobics” where you try novel tasks. To do this, three conditions must be met: your attention must be engaged; you need to use more than one of your senses; and you must break a routine activity in an unexpected and meaningful way. Examples include reading, board games, writing and doing crossword puzzles.
- Medications, which may prevent help with memory loss. Check with your doctor about using any medications prior to starting treatment.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation. (nd). 4 pillars of prevention.
James, S. (2013). 1 in 8 boomers reports memory loss, large survey finds. NBC News.
Kolata, G. (2013). Dementia rate is found to drop sharply, as forecast. New York Times.
National Institute on Aging. (2012). Preventing Alzhiemer's disease.