International experts have presented research indicating that dementia incidence rates may be falling by up to 15% decade on decade.
The findings were discussed in March at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2019 in Harrogate.
Dementia currently affects 850,000 people in the UK and the condition is now the country’s leading cause of death. While the number of people living with dementia is set to rise dramatically as the population ages, this shift may be masking more positive news on an individual level.
While there haven’t been any new drug treatments for dementia in nearly 20 years, lifestyle changes could be helping to bring down dementia rates and new risk reduction strategies could further prevent or delay dementia.
Nearly 500 top scientists have gathered at the Harrogate Convention Centre this week for the UK’s largest annual meeting of dementia research.
Professor Albert Hofman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, attended the conference to present the latest insights into how dementia rates seem to be changing over time.
He said: “Looking over three decades, the incidence rate of dementia in Europe and North America seems to be declining by around 15% per decades.
“This finding is more pronounced in men than women and is likely to be driven by changes in cardiovascular risk factors and lifestyle.
“We know that recent decades have seen a radical decline in smoking rates for men. While many people may have been persuaded to stop smoking due to an increased risk of cancer or heart disease, it is also a key risk factor for dementia.
“With other dementia risk factors such as obesity and diabetes on the rise, this apparent decline in dementia rates may not continue for long.”
Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference has grown enormously in recent years, reflecting renewed urgency and a growing momentum to support research to overcome dementia. We are now able to attract the best dementia scientists from across the world to share their new findings alongside the UK’s own world-leading research.
“Risk reduction research is a key focus for Alzheimer’s Research UK and our work will help transform the current dementia landscape. Our Mike Gooley Trailfinders Charity Prevention and Risk Reduction Fund represent the UK’s largest charitable investment in dementia prevention research and is supporting ongoing projects exploring strategies to help support healthy brain function into old age.
“While there is no drug to yet slow or stop diseases like Alzheimer’s, there is robust evidence that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. As well as maintaining healthy blood pressure, the best current evidence suggests that not smoking, only drinking within the recommended limits, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping cholesterol levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age.”