Encouraging News About the Incidence of Dementia

Many projections forecast a major increase in dementia in coming decades. With populations aging across the globe, many more elderly adults are expected to develop dementia.Better heart health reducing dementia

Current projections, for example, predict that cases of dementia will triple in the United States alone.

The results of several recent European studies, however, suggest a more optimistic future.

Large studies of aging individuals in Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands indicate that a smaller proportion of aging individuals will experience cognitive impairment and dementia than had been anticipated.

While no one doubts that the aging of the worldwide population will result in marked increases in the number of individuals with dementia, the future may not be as grim as projected – which is very encouraging.

What might account for these optimistic results?  One major factor may be declining rates of heart disease.

Large post-death studies of brain tissue from individuals who had dementia show that very few had just one kind of brain tissue change.  Instead, they often have combinations of different changes, and one of the most common is vascular injury – damage to one or more blood vessels in the brain).

In these individuals, changes in memory and cognitive decline likely reflect injuries to the brain both from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular injury.

Vascular diseases, like stroke and heart disease, have been declining in developed countries.  A possible conclusion, then, is that controlling vascular risk factors may reduce brain injury and prevent or slow the development of dementia. While not proven, this prediction is consistent with recent results of European studies.

Even a modest reduction in the number of elderly people who develop dementia would have a major impact on health care in the United States.

A variety of research efforts at the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center target the interaction of vascular disease and disorders that involve dementia and cognitive problems.

One area of interest is vascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease, a common disease with a high incidence of dementia.  Our work suggests that vascular disease worsens the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including cognitive impairment.  Aggressive treatment of vascular disease risk factors may lessen the particularly troubling features of Parkinson’s disease.

What should we take home from this? If you are a young, middle-aged or even an older adult, you can do things that might help fight dementia. Changing lifestyle habits that can affect cardiovascular risk factors is a good place to start. Things like quitting smoking, lowering your cholesterol, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and exercising regularly could help prevent dementia.

Visit our current clinical trials available for people living with memory loss or dementia, caregivers and healthy volunteers.

Roger_Albin-e1364239273491-125x160Associated with the MADC for many years first as the Brain Bank Director and now as Clinical Core Leader, Roger Albin, M.D., is internationally recognized for his research on various movement disorders and their relationship to dementia. In addition to caring for patients with cognitive disorders, he studies basic disease mechanisms and participates in human imaging studies seeking to improve our diagnosis of dementing disorders. He also performs research on brain chemical factors that influence the production of beta-amyloid, a key disease protein in Alzheimer’s disease. Roger is passionate about advancing disease knowledge so that we can treat patients better.  He attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh and received his Neurology training at the University of Michigan.


MADC logoThe Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) was established at the University of Michigan Health System, through affiliation with the Department of Neurology and aims to conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts. The infrastructure of the Center stems from a 20 year history as an NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.