(excerpted from the New York Times)
New studies of older persons in England and Denmark show dementia rates may be falling and mental ability improving as the population grew healthier and better educated, as recently reported in the New York Times.
A new study among people 65 and older in England and Wales showed dementia rates falling during the past two decades. On a standard test of mental ability among people in their 90s in Denmark, twice as many people scored at the highest level in 2010 as in 1998, while the percentage of people scoring in the severely impaired range fell.
The two studies, published in the last week, confirmed what some researchers on aging have suspected: dementia rates would fall and mental acuity improve as the population grew healthier and better educated.
Dallas Anderson, an expert on dementia at the National Institute on Aging, said the studies were “rigorous and are strong evidence.” He said he expected the same trends were occurring in the United States but would need to see studies done here to confirm the trend.
The new studies offer hope amid bad news about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as in Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures 2013 from the Alzheimer's Association.
A recent analysis by the RAND Corporation concluded that the number of people with dementia would double in the next 30 years as baby boomers age, assuming dementia rates remain steady, and so would the costs of caring for them.
But its lead author, Michael D. Hurd, a principal senior researcher at RAND, said that if the falling dementia rates found in Britain held true in the United States, the future projections could be off.
Maria Carrillo, of the Alzheimer’s Association, said she was not convinced the trends were real or that they held for the United States. She said the British paper had a methodological flaw and the Danish work might reflect the fact that Danes were generally healthier than Americans.
The studies assessed dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease and also other conditions. Richard Suzman, director of the division of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, said “Other forms of dementia could be going down, and Alzheimer’s could be going up, for all I know.”
Dr. Kaare Christensen, of the University of Southern Denmark, said his Danish study, along with the British one, “cautiously provides a basis for optimism."
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