We are constantly fed doom and gloom stories in health. There is a crisis of this or a tsunami of that. This is despite life expectancy continuously increasing for over 100 years. The claims of crisis are inevitably accompanied by a plea for government funding for whoever has found the latest crisis.Yet when good news comes along there is very little publicity. Maybe a declining rate of any illness is not good for business.
A report out of the USA shows that rates of Alzheimer’s disease are falling. And not just falling a little but at a fairly dramatic rate. Between 2000 and 2012 the percentage of older adults with dementia declined from 11.6% to 8.8%. In real terms this is 3% drop. In relative terms it means 25% less people with dementia.
In numerical terms it means there are one million less people with dementia than might have been expected. Apart from the obvious advantage to those people, and their families it creates less demands on the health system.
This is not the first time that reduced rates of dementia have been shown. A 2013 review published in the Lancet showed the percentage of people over the age of 65 who had dementia in the UK had dropped from 8.3% to 6.3% over the previous 20 years. This is also a 25% drop!
A Danish study compared results of cognitive (thinking) tests on people in their 90’s done in 1998 and 2010. Obviously it was a different group of people but the ages were the same. What they found was that the 2010 group did significantly better on the same tests. The percentage of people found to have significant cognitive impairment had fallen from 22% to 17%. The number who scored at the highest level doubled to 25%.
The reasons for this are not exactly known but it is certainly multifactorial. Better education was thought to be a factor in creating stronger brains. Likewise better nutrition and living standards play a role.
Another study has shown a 20% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s each decade since the late 1970’s.
Sadly this type of information does not make the front page. Nor do advocacy groups promote it. It goes against the narrative of a crisis.
These figures are particularly important given the ongoing push for “screening” and so called “early intervention”. The push for dementia screening will do far more harm than good by falsely labelling people as having a problem they do not have. This does not even take into account the needless anxiety caused.
And there is NO useful screening test. An occasional lapse of memory is not a pointer to dementia even though people with dementia have memory loss. It has been shown that age related memory lapse is completely different to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
By strange coincidence it was also reported that a new drug to slow the progression of Alzheimers was no better than placebo. The results were “not what we hoped for” the CEO of Lilly Pharmaceuticals said in a statement.
There are no effective drugs for this condition and this latest failure adds to a long list.
I think it is highly unlikely that pharmaceuticals are going to be the answer. The answer is showing itself to us. That is prevention. Currently this is happening literally under our noses. Effort would be better directed into trying to further determine what it is we are doing that is working so well – a 25% drop in a dozen years!
We know regular exercise, getting enough vitamin D, and doing things, which stimulate the brain makes a difference. Staying longer in the workforce has been shown to help maintain memory and brain power. Doing volunteer work or taking up new courses or pastimes have a similar effect.
And on the quirky side, playing video games has been found to enhance cognitive function in people over 65. So this is something you can now do with your teenage grandchildren (or children if you started later in life).
Any form of dementia is a terrible affliction. Declining rates is welcome news. The lack of publicity of good news in health continues to astound me.