When over five million Americans live with some type of dementia, news that degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s is on the decline is welcome indeed. The Framingham Heart Study, a joint project undertaken by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute and Boston University, has been studying dementia since 1975.
The study followed 2,000 people, mostly Caucasian, who ranged in age from 60 to 101. Claudia Satizabal, an instructor at the Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the study, says “[the] study offers cautious hope that some cases of dementia might be preventable or at least delayed.” The study, published on February 11, 2016, in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that over the past few decades dementia has been steadily decreasing.
Four eras were examined in the study:
- The first era was from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The average age of getting dementia was 80, and for every 100 people, 3.6 developed dementia.
- The second era was from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. The average age of getting dementia was 82, and for every 100 people, 2.8 developed dementia. This represents a decrease of 22% from the first era.
- The third era was from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. The average age of getting dementia was 84, and for every 100 people, 2.2 developed dementia. This represents a decrease of 38% from the first era.
- The fourth era was from the late 2000s to the early 2010s. The average age of getting dementia was 85, and for every 100 people, two developed dementia. This represents a decrease of 44% from the first era.
Interestingly, the study found that these decreasing rates of dementia only applied to participants who had at least a high school diploma, but the study also clearly states that “the factors contributing to the decline have not been completely identified.” On its website, the Alzheimer’s Society says that lower levels of education and Alzheimer’s are connected.
This doesn’t mean that those with a higher education aren’t prone to getting dementia, but rather that it would extend the time when it could happen, potentially just pushing it off to later on in life.
There is no currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but given the results of this study we can assert that those with a higher level of education stand a better chance of not developing these degenerative brain diseases.
None of this has been concretely proven as of yet, which is why it’s critical to keep your mind active. Some great activities to keep your brain sharp and possibly delaying the onset of dementia include gardening, brain puzzles, memory exercises, crosswords, Sudoku, attending lectures and plays, reading and writing, and taking a course at an adult education center or community college.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Satizabal, C.L., et al, “Incidence of Dementia over Three Decades in the Framingham Heart Study,” The New England Journal of Medicine, February 2016; doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1504327.
“Stay Mentally Active” Alzheimer’s Association web site; http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_stay_mentally_active.asp, last accessed February 11, 2016.