New cases of dementia, especially vascular dementia—have been declining steadily since the 1970s, and older adults may have heart-healthy lifestyles to thank. Rates of dementia have dropped by almost half in the past 44 years, from 3.6 percent to 2 percent, according to new data from a long-running study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The five-year study tracked data from more than 5,000 people age 60 or older, noting dementia statistics by decade. The study group members are all participants in the Framingham Heart Study, originally set up in 1948 to explore the causes and factors affecting heart disease and stroke.
The rate of dementia cases has dropped by progressively larger percentages each following decade compared to the 1970s: 22 percent lower in the 1980s, 38 percent lower in the 1990s and 44 percent lower in the 2000s, according to the report. The data have produced “cautious optimism” among researchers, although dementia rates will probably rise going forward because of surging numbers of older adults added to the senior demographic since 2000.
A likely contributing factor is the concurring reduction of heart disease, the study authors say. Advancements in heart disease treatment and healthy heart awareness education are helping older adults maintain healthier circulatory systems, which in turn reduces the risk for vascular dementia.
The caveat: The data hasn’t caught up with the baby boomers yet, who are creating a massive new population of seniors to test the rates of dementia in the next decades.