Dementia, specifically Alzheimer's Disease, is a major concern for healthcare professionals because it was projected that as baby boomers age the number of elderly requiring aggressive care in secure nursing facilities could increase dramatically along with the pressure on the already strained healthcare system for the elderly.

Dementia, JAMA’s good news

But there is a surprise in the recent data concerning dementia - the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine publication reports that in terms of percentage increase there has been a decline of 25% in the number of expected demented people aged 65 and older.

The study covered the years 2000 through 2012 and the decline from 11.6% of those over 65 having some form of dementia in 2000 to only 8.8% in 2012 means that there are nearly one million fewer elderly with dementia today than had been expected.

The JAMA published study was conducted on a population of more than 21,000 individuals, enough of a population that the results are statistically highly significant. According to the November 21, 2016, issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, the information came from analysis of data collected as part of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationwide survey of individuals in the United States 65 years or older 10,546 in 2000 and 10,511 in 2012.

Dementia rate declined - but what’s the cause?

Dementia is declining on a percentage basis and is likely to continue as baby boomers age. It would be great if we could determine the reason so healthcare professionals could apply the same treatment to a greater number of people, but there is no real evidence found in the research which points to a single or even a specific collection of causes for the improvement.

The study group in 2012 is slightly more educated, (about one school year on average) but researchers dismiss that as the entire reason for the change. An increase in formal education is known to cause an improvement in “cognitive reserve,” that is, they have created more “backup synapses” (STATnews) and neurons so when some are disabled by Alzheimer's or other dementia processes they are still able to function well.

Dementia reduced in overweight people

A curious statistical result finds that elderly people who are overweight are less likely to develop dementia. Although having extra pounds can increase the risk of developing heart disease and/or diabetes which can cause an increase in the chance of developing dementia, “late-life obesity may be protective,” wrote Ozioma C. Okonkwo and Dr. Sanjay Asthana of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in a commentary on the JAMA article.

Dementia decline not a one study result

The result of this study published in JAMA agrees with the Framingham (MA) cardiovascular (heart health) study which has been run for decades (since 1948) by the Boston University School of Medicine, is now working with the third generation of residents.

That study showed a 20% decline vs the expected number of dementia cases in recent years. It should be noted that participants in the Framingham study are likely to have more education and better healthcare than the average baby boomer because the town residents live in an upper-class environment and are therefore likely to have at least some college degree.

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