De­men­tia may be sta­bi­liz­ing in some coun­tries: study

The China Post - - LIFE - BY MAR­LOWE HOOD

The oc­cur­rence of de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s dis­ease may have sta­bi­lized in some wealthy na­tions, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased Fri­day.

A re­view of data from Swe­den, the Nether­lands, United King­dom and Spain showed the per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion with de­men­tia — the um­brella term for neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases of the brain — hold­ing steady, along with the num­ber of new cases, said the study, pub­lished in The Lancet Neu­rol­ogy.

The find­ings, how­ever, were sharply con­tested by other ex­perts.

Re­searchers led by Carol Brayne, a pro­fes­sor at the Cam­bridge In­sti­tute of Public Health and the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, com­pared de­men­tia oc­cur­rence in old peo­ple across two time pe­ri­ods span­ning the last sev­eral decades.

They found lit­tle change across the two pe­ri­ods, and in one case even a small de­cline, in the per­cent- age of the pop­u­la­tion af­fected.

This un­ex­pected trend could be the re­sult of bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions and ed­u­ca­tion, as well as im­prove­ments in the preven­tion and treat­ment of vas­cu­lar dis­eases that lead to stroke and heart at­tack, the re­searchers said.

“The sug­gested de­crease in de­men­tia oc­cur­rence co­in­cides with im­prove­ments in pro­tec­tive fac­tors ... and a gen­eral re­duc­tion in risk fac­tors over re­cent decades,” Brayne said in a state­ment.

If borne out, the find­ings are very good news, and sug­gest that an im­pend­ing “de­men­tia epi­demic” — due mainly to an age­ing pop­u­la­tion — could be less se­vere than feared.

Ap­prox­i­mately seven per­cent of peo­ple over 65 suf­fer from some form of de­men­tia, a per­cent­age that rises to 40 per­cent above 80 or 85 years of age, ac­cord­ing to dif­fer­ent es­ti­mates.

But ex­perts re­view­ing the study chal­lenged the un­der­ly­ing num­bers, and cau­tioned that its con­clu­sions as to why de­men­tia may have sta­bi­lized — if in­deed it did — are over­drawn.

Num­bers Will In­crease

“While this study is welcome in show­ing that the per­cent­age of peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar age groups de­vel­op­ing de­men­tia could be get­ting smaller, the over­all num­ber of peo­ple with de­men­tia is still set to in­crease as more peo­ple live into their 80s and 90s,” said Jeremy Hughes, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of the U.K.’s Alzheimer’s So­ci­ety.

“With no cure, few ef­fec­tive treat­ments and an eco­nomic im­pact ex­ceed­ing that of can­cer or heart dis­ease, de­men­tia re­mains the most crit­i­cal health and so­cial care chal­lenge fac­ing the United King­dom,” he wrote in a com­ment.

Most Western na­tions along with Ja­pan — where the over-85 age group is the fastest grow­ing de­mo­graphic — are fac­ing the same gen­eral sce­nario.

“The ev­i­dence put for­ward to sug­gest de­clin­ing preva­lence in high-in­come coun­tries is fairly weak,” said Martin Prince, a pro­fes­sor at King’s Col­lege Lon­don’s In­sti­tute of Psy­chi­a­try, Psy­chol­ogy and Neu­ro­science.

“A wise ap­proach for pol­i­cy­mak­ers — un­til we have much clearer ev­i­dence to the con­trary — is to as­sume that ... num­bers will con­tinue to in­crease in line with pop­u­la­tion age­ing.”

Oth­ers wel­comed the study’s fo­cus on pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures.

“En­cour­ag­ingly, this re­search sug­gests that health­ier be­hav­iors may have helped re­duce de­men­tia risk in later-born gen­er­a­tions,” said Matthew Nor­ton of Alzheimer’s Re­search UK.

“Mea­sures to help peo­ple adopt healthy lifestyles now could have a real im­pact on the num­bers of peo­ple liv­ing with de­men­tia in the fu­ture.”

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