Are seniors in the United States developing dementia later and less often? One study’s results say so. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 11, followed more than 5,000 Americans for 40 years. The participants’ average age of dementia development rose from 80 to 85. They also experienced a 20 percent reduction rate in their risk of developing the condition.
Study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, professor of neurology at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, points out that America still has a large population of dementia sufferers. With 5.2 million Americans over 65 estimated to have Alzheimer’s, and the aging population increasing, dementia’s still a public health issue.
But the study brings promising news. Two factors in particular correlate with preventing or delaying dementia: education and heart health.
Study participants with at least a high school diploma saw the most significant drop in dementia rates. Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, says “The more cognitively [mentally] healthy you are to begin with, the better able your brain is to withstand the slings and arrows of aging.” Seshadri mentions that participants with higher social and economic status – including access to better healthcare – are also more likely to be well educated.
Heart health is crucial because it influences brain function. Strokes, irregular heartbeat and heart disease all affect the brain. Improved stroke detection, follow-up care for stroke survivors and better heart disease treatment mean healthier bodies all around. “Fewer people who develop strokes are developing dementia,” says Seshadri.