Good news not making news
Dementia is a growing issue - or is it? Dr Joe Kosterich looks into what we should be doing to minimise its impact.
Recently a new study came out linking use of statins to lower rates of Alzheimer’s. The researchers conceded that no causal effect was found and that it could be a spurious link. Yet it got widely reported.
A study one month earlier showed Alzheimer’s disease actually falling at a fairly dramatic rate. Between 2000 and 2012 the percentage of older adults in the USA with dementia declined from 11.6% to 8.8%. This is a 3 percentage point drop – or in relative terms, 25% fewer people with dementia.
For some reason, there are one million fewer people with dementia than we expected. Apart from the obvious advantage to those people and their families, it creates less demand on the health system.
A 2013 review published in the Lancet showed the percentage of people over the age of 65 who had dementia in the UK had dropped from 8.3% to 6.3% over the previous 20 years. This is also a 25% drop!
A Danish study compared results of cognitive tests on people in their 90s done in 1998 and 2010. The 2010 group did significantly better on the same tests. The percentage of people found to have significant cognitive impairment had fallen from 22% to 17%. The number who scored at the highest level doubled to 25%.
For some reason, there are one million fewer people with dementia than we expected.
The reasons for this are not exactly known but it is certainly multifactorial. Better education was thought to be a factor in creating stronger brains. Likewise better nutrition and living standards play a role.
Another study has shown a 20% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s each decade since the late 1970s.
Sadly this type of information does not get widely reported.
Coincidentally, it emerged at the same time that a new drug to slow Alzheimer’s was no better than placebo. The CEO of Lilly Pharmaceuticals remarked that the results were “not what we hoped for”.
There are no effective drugs for this condition and this latest failure adds to a long list.
I think it is highly unlikely that pharmaceuticals are going to be the answer. The answer is showing itself to us. It is prevention. Currently this is happening literally under our noses. Our effort would be better directed at figuring out what it is we are doing that is working so well, to cause a 25% drop in a dozen years!
We know that regular exercise, getting enough vitamin D, and doing things which stimulate the brain make a difference. Staying longer in the workforce has been shown to help maintain memory and brain power. Doing volunteer work or taking up new courses or pastimes have a similar effect.
And on the quirky side, playing video games has been found to enhance cognitive function in people over 65. So this is something you can now do with your teenage grandchildren (or children if you started later in life).
Any form of dementia is a terrible affliction. Declining rates is welcome news. The lack of publicity of good news in health continues to astound me.
Dr Joe Kosterich MBBS
Doctor, speaker, author of three books, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
He is a regular on Channel 9 and radio, writes for various medical and mainstream publications, as well as maintaining a website and blog providing health information. He is the health ambassador for locally grown fresh potatoes. Dr Joe also gives practical motivational health talks for the general public and organizations.