Longer lives mean more people will have dementia

The rate of older Americans with dementia is on the decline, but the growing number of people 85 or older will roughly double in the next 20 years. That means the actual number of people will increase substantially, a new study warns.

More than 45 million people worldwide have the condition and the impact on both them and the people who care for them is significant.

Its economic impact, including unpaid care provided by families, is estimated to be about $800 billion annually, says Robert Schoeni, a professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and department of economics.

Schoeni and colleagues Vicki Freedman and Ken Langa led a special supplement to the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences that examines trends in dementia across the United States.

“The overall favorable trend seems to be linked to higher education levels among today’s older Americans,” says Freedman. “But substantial gaps remain between more and less educated groups.”

The supplement stems from a May 2017 workshop that aimed to broaden the understanding of dementia trends, including a study that examines how education levels influence life expectancy.

Other studies look at the impact of cardiovascular disease. Reducing cardiovascular diseases and other chronic diseases is critical for the health of individuals and families, but because such advantages allow people to live to older ages when dementia is more common, the number of cases may not decrease.

“By far the most powerful way to lower both the proportion and number of people with dementia is to develop prevention strategies and treatments that would directly delay the onset…,” says Langa, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, professor of internal medicine, and research scientist at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Center for Clinical Management Research.

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In addition to the overall decline in dementia prevalence, the supplement’s studies show the following:

  • Some groups of older adults in the United States are living fewer years with dementia.
  • Racial and socioeconomic disparities are large and not diminishing.
  • Rising levels of education partially account for the decline, but more research is needed to understand the role cardiovascular risk factors.
  • Reducing the incidence of diabetes and hypertension in midlife will increase the future number of cases of dementia because people will live longer.Therefore, postponing the onset of dementia directly is the most effective way to further reduce the size of the population living with dementia.

Source: University of Michigan