Recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) suggests hopeful news: Dementia rates are on the decline. However, the cause of this heartening trend may surprise you. According to scientists, lowering incidences of dementia are directly linked with better heart health. Let's take a closer look at the findings, along with how caregivers can help their aging loved ones improve both their cognitive and their cardiovascular wellness.
Is there a natural prescription for dementia prevention?
A Look at the Numbers
Experts have long projected that the number of Americans with dementia would continue to increase in proportion to the increasing of the aging population -- a particularly alarming prediction when you factor in the coming-of-retirement-age of the Baby Boomer generation. However, the latest news offers newfound encouragement.
According to the findings of the multigenerational Framingham Heart Study, dementia rates have actually declined over the past 30 years -- from a five-year rate of dementia of 3.6 percent between 1982 and 1986 to a 2.0 percent rate of dementia during the five-year period between 2009 and 2013. Not only that, but the average age at diagnosis also spiked from 80 to 85 over those same three decades.
Causes and Concerns
Experts attribute decreased rates of dementia largely to declining rates of cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, stroke, and atrial fibrillation. This is consistent with what researchers have already determined to be a potential "recipe" for dementia prevention: healthy lifestyle behaviors. According to healthcare experts, it all links back to education. The more people understand what's good for the heart, the more they'll reap benefits that are also good for the brain.
Caregivers can aid in the effort by helping aging loved ones to lead heart-healthy lives. This means everything from better nutrition and regular exercise to stress management, encouraging plenty of opportunities for socialization, and brain training exercises. All in all, science suggests that dementia prevention is not about doing any one thing, but is instead a "cocktail."
On the flip side, however, rising rates of of conditions like obesity and diabetes are linked with increased risk for both dementia and heart disease. The troubling takeaway? Failure to keep these things in check could eventually slow or even reverse the declining dementia rates.
Despite these potential obstacles, researchers insist that there is still cause for moderate celebration. Says the report's lead author, Boston University School of Medicine Instructor, Claudia Satizabal, "Our study offers cautious hope that some cases of dementia might be preventable or at least delayed."
The best part? In embracing heart-healthy measures aimed at reducing the risk of depression, seniors and their caregivers will simultaneously reap a multitude of interlinking benefits.
Heart-healthy choices are good for the body and the brain.
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