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Alzheimer’s rate declines in US: Healthy habits and education protects brain

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Alzheimer’s disease rates are dropping in the United States, and in other wealthy nations, a new study finds. The study, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Tuesday, also found the average age at which dementia was diagnosed rose from 80 to 85 since 1978, the Associated press reports. Researchers attribute the decline to better health habits and increased education, noting that over the same period there was a decline in heart disease, strokes and smoking and increased use of blood pressure medications. High school graduation rates also increased.

The study tracked several thousand individuals, aged 60 and older, over four periods of five years beginning in 1978, 1989, 1996 and 2006. When compared with the first period, new cases of Alzheimer’s declined by 22 percent in the second period, 38 percent in the third period and 44 percent in the most recent period. The 30-year study, presented by Dr. Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan, is the longest study conducted on trends in Alzheimer’s Disease diagnoses.

"The results bring some hope that perhaps dementia cases might be preventable, or at least delayed, by improving health and education.” — Study leader, Claudia Satizabal of Boston University.

According to the National Institutes of Aging, nearly 5.1 million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. The irreversible disease gradually destroys memory and thinking skills, eventually robbing its victims of the ability to function independently. It is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. Early symptoms include memory problems and loss of some cognitive functioning.

The study authors warn that increasing rates of diabetes and obesity in the United States could undo the progress made over the past 30 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one third of adults in America are obese. Nearly 29 million Americans are diabetic, and the rate at which new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in on the rise.

In January 2011, President Obama signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, noting that the baby boomer generation is getting older increasing the number of Americans at risk of developing the disease. The Act calls for a coordinated national plan to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and provide support for patients and their families. The Plan provides funds for research, education outreach programs, and improved data collection.

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