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Risk of Dementia Has Decreased over the Past 20 Years, Study Finds

Update Date: Apr 19, 2013 11:13 AM EDT

For many people, dementia is a terrifying prospect. However, despite much news coverage on the subject, a recent study has found that the risk of dementia has declined over the past 20 years.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet, based on data from an ongoing study that began in 1987. The study involved 3,000 people over the age of 75 who lived in a specific neighborhood of Stockholm, Sweden. Out of the total number of participants, 523 were diagnosed with some form of dementia. Researchers noted that the number of people with dementia stayed steady during the course of the study, while taking stock of the fact that life expectancy of people with dementia has decreased over the same time period. They came to the conclusion that the number of people with dementia must have stayed steady because earlier cases were living longer, meaning that fewer people are developing dementia.

Researchers believe that the risk of dementia may be decreasing due to improved treatment for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is considered to be a risk factor for dementia. Prevention of cardiovascular disease and health check-ups have vastly improved in Sweden, which may have, in turn, reduced the risk of developing dementia.

The research may be surprising, as other studies have estimated that the number of people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia is set to swell in the future. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the number of people with Alzheimer's disease in the United States alone is expected to triple from 5.2 million to 16.2 million by 2050. The World Health Organization reports that incidences of dementia are set to double every 20 years; in 2050, the organization estimates that 115.4 million people will suffer from dementia, most in low- and middle-income countries. It is unclear whether the findings of the research applies to people outside Sweden.

However, the researchers note that their findings do not contradict those studies. "The reduction of dementia risk is a positive phenomenon, but it is important to remember that the number of people with dementia will continue to rise along with the increase in life expectancy and absolute numbers of people over age 75", Professor Laura Fratiglioni, the Director of the Aging Research Center at the medical university and one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. "This means that the societal burden of dementia and the need for medical and social services will continue to increase. Today there's no way to cure patients who have dementia. Instead we must continue to improve health care and prevention in this area."

The study was published in the journal Neurology.

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