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Hope on dementia

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Recent research has concluded that, even though the number of people with dementia is increasing as baby boomers age, the prevalence of the affliction is declining.

A study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine provided the strongest evidence yet that better education is helping people live longer before falling victim to the disease. It evaluated 5,025 people age 60 and older four times beginning in 1977, and it found a steady decline of about 20 percent in new cases each decade.

That decline occurred only in people with a high school education or more. It also found that the average age of onset, which was 80 in the 1970s, now is 85.

Another large-scale study conducted by a professor of internal medicine from the University of Michigan found, according to The New York Times, that the rate of dementia declined by about 21 percent from 2000 to 2010; other researchers have reported similar findings.

If that’s true, why are there so many people being diagnosed? Blame the aging population bulge.

Experts still don’t know why the level of education affects the likelihood that a person will develop dementia. Are better educated people likely to live healthier lifestyles or does the educational process create more neural pathways in the brain?

The studies are encouraging in suggesting that dementia may not be as inevitable a consequence of aging as once was expected, but researchers still have far more questions than answers.

In a nation where 5 million people already have dementia, the hope is that previous predictions that the number would triple by the middle of this century will be proved wrong.

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