(AP) — The rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is falling in the United States and some other rich countries — good news about an epidemic that is still growing simply because more people are living to an old age, new studies show.
An American over age 60 today has a 44 percent lower chance of developing dementia than a similar-aged person did roughly 30 years ago, the longest study of these trends in the U.S. concluded.
Dementia rates also are down in Germany, a study there found.
“For an individual, the actual risk of dementia seems to have declined,” probably due to more education and control of health factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure, said Dr. Kenneth Langa. He is a University of Michigan expert on aging who discussed the studies Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen.
The opposite is occurring in some poor countries that have lagged on education and health, where dementia seems to be rising.
More than 5.4 million Americans and 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. It has no cure and current drugs only temporarily ease symptoms.
A drop in rates is a silver lining in the so-called silver tsunami — the expected wave of age-related health problems from an older population. Alzheimer’s will remain a major public health issue, but countries where rates are dropping may be able to lower current projections for spending and needed services, experts said.
Recent studies from the Netherlands, Sweden and England have suggested a decline, and the new research extends this look to some other parts of the world.
The federally funded Framingham study tracked new dementia cases among several thousand people 60 and older in five-year periods starting in 1978, 1989, 1996 and 2006. Compared with the first period, new cases were 22 percent lower in the second one, 38 percent lower in the third and 44 percent lower in the fourth one.
The average age at which dementia was diagnosed also rose — from 80 during the first period to 85 in the last one.
During that time, there were declines in smoking, heart disease and strokes, factors linked to dementia, and a rise in the number of people using blood pressure medicines and getting a high school diploma, which reduce the likelihood of developing the condition.
“The results bring some hope that perhaps dementia cases might be preventable, or at least delayed” by improving health and education, said the study leader, Claudia Satizabal of Boston University.
Dallas Anderson, epidemiology chief at the National Institute on Aging, agreed.
“For those who get the disease, it may come later in life, which is a good thing. Getting the disease in your 80s or 90s is a very different than getting it in your early 70s,” he said.