Rate of dementia on the decline, study suggests

When it comes to Alzheimer's disease and dementia, good news is often hard to come by, but a new study offers a more optimistic view than most health experts provide. Scientists from the Group Health Research Institute found that there is a declining rate of dementia in the U.S., and the newly reported cases tend to occur later in life than in the past, according to results published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lifestyle changes have impact
There could be a number of reasons for the positive findings, including the fact that people are living longer than ever before. Researchers speculate it could be due to seniors recognizing the role that hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular disease have on the development of Alzheimer's, and taking action. Furthermore, the senior population is better educated than those of years past, which could also have an impact on cognitive health.

"We're very encouraged to see a growing number of studies from around the world that suggest that the risk of dementia may be falling due to rising levels of education and better prevention and treatment of key cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol," said Dr. Kenneth Langa.

Continuing education could play role
Staying mentally sharp is a key component of healthy aging, and there are many options available to seniors to help them do so. Retirement communities have recognized the importance of mental exercise, and they offer a wide variety of clubs and classes for older adults to learn new things, whether through trips to local colleges and museums or hosting seminars on a wide variety of topics.

There is certainly ample evidence suggesting that mental stimulation may be one of the most effective forms of memory care out there. In 2010, scientists from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that seniors who reported higher levels of mentally stimulating activities saw about a 52 percent slower rate of cognitive decline compared to those who were less cognitively active. However, they were unsure of just how long that protection held up over time. Experts have also found that other lifestyle choices, including a healthy diet and regular physical activity, are both contributing factors to mental health.