SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Scientists continue to race for answers when it comes to the causes and potential treatment targets for dementia. Luckily, it seems rates of the disease in the U.S. are actually decreasing among older adults. A report from the RAND Corporation finds dementia rates among people 65 and older fell 3.7 percent from 2000 to 2016.
The November 2022 research utilized a novel model to assess cognition based on an expansive set of cognitive measures from 21,000 people who participated in the national Health and Retirement Study, a large population-representative survey that has now collected data for two decades.
Age-adjusted incidences of dementia dropped from 12.2 percent of people in 2000 to 8.5 percent of people over age 65 in 2016, which is close to a one-third drop during that timeframe. Interestingly, while the prevalence of dementia clearly decreased over the entire period, the rate of decline was more rapid between 2000 and 2004.
“The reasons for the decline in the prevalence of dementia are not certain, but this trend is good news for older Americans and the systems that support them,” says Péter Hudomiet, the study’s lead author and an economist at RAND, in a media release. “This decline may help reduce the expected strain on families, nursing homes, and other support systems as the American population ages.”
Additionally, the team noted that in comparing Black and White men, Black men saw a 7.3-percent decline in dementia incidence compared to just 2.7 percent among White men. Despite these more positive markers, women still had higher rates of dementia compared to men, further emphasizing the need to better understand the pathophysiology of the disease. Women had a larger decrease in incidence compared to men but still led in overall cases. Men experienced a 3.2-percent decrease, while women experienced a drop of 3.9 percent.
Above the rest, the researchers found that education was a statistically valuable factor in reducing dementia. They discovered that close to 40 percent and 20 percent of the reduction among men and women respectively has a link to their level of education. The team stresses that it’s important to include education among other factors such as race in order to best consider inequities that may affect disease rates.
“Closing the education gap across racial and ethnic groups may be a powerful tool to reduce some health inequalities and dementia differences in particular, an important public health policy goal,” Hudomiet says.
Race, sex, age, and education all play their respective roles in how dementia patients receive care, such as payments and insurance. These findings offer promise for the future. Better understanding of trends as they relate to social and economic factors may help improve outcomes as well as quality of care.