We are, for good reason, repeatedly reminded of the horrifying statistics related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people over the age of 65 is exploding and most dementia symptoms develop as a person ages. This is fact. In no way does this article intend to distract from the need to cure all types of dementia. However, there is one thing to celebrate. Alzheimer’s rates seem to be declining.
Alzheimer’s will not go away without a fight
Well known figures from the Alzheimer’s Association and other sources report that by 2025 the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease will likely reach 7.1 million, which is a 40 percent increase over those affected by the disease in 2015. By 2050, the number of people in this age group with Alzheimer's disease is expected to triple, from 5.1 million to a projected 13.8 million unless enormous progress is made in controlling dementia.
Obviously, we have a long way to go. Millions of people will continue to develop the disease. However, the very fact that the rate of development seems to be going down is exciting. With no cure, how can this be? Data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) tells the story.
What’s good for the heart is good for the brain
For this study, Framingham researchers attempted to explain the reason for the decreasing risk of dementia by considering risk factors and variations such as education, smoking, blood pressure and medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Heart and overall vascular health seems to be the major factor for this decline.
However, one other finding was intriguing. We read studies showing that education levels and continuing to use our brains may help stave off dementia. The Framingham study seems to back this up to some degree as it showed that the decline in dementia incidence was observed only in persons with high school education and above.
The study does not take ethnic background into consideration as the groups studied were mostly of European ancestry, therefore much more investigation will be needed to see if these data hold true for all ethnicities.
Still we go back to the fact that taking care of our hearts may impact our brains. This isn’t news and should hold true for eveyone. In my view, whatever convinces people to quit smoking, get more exercise, eat well, and challenge their brains is good.
If we walk, run or jog to help our heart health, maintain our weight at a good level to limit stroke risk, pursue mental challenges as a matter of enjoyment – the reasons for doing these things don't matter. If staying otherwise healthy in turn helps even a few people maintain healthier brains as a side effect, that’s an enormous gift.
Developing dementia is no one's fault. As I repeatedly write in these articles, there are people who have done everything "right" - whatever "right" is at the moment – who will still develop dementia.
Yet, there a so many perks to overall robust health that doing whatever we can manage that is positive has to be good. Lifestyle may put of Alzheimer’s disease for one in three people. Yes, this may not help the other two thirds of the people, but what have they lost by maintaining overall health to the best of their ability?
If there is even a small chance that caring for our hearts and our overall health will help us age better that knowledge leaves me feeling a little less helpless. I hope it will do the same for you.