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As More People Live Longer Why Are Rates of Dementia Falling?

The New England Journal of Medicine: “in 1993, 12.2% of surveyed adults 70 years of age or older [in America] had cognitive impairment, as compared with 8.7% in 2002.”

by
Theodore Dalrymple

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December 10, 2013 - 1:00 pm
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There is nothing quite as difficult to predict as the future. In my lifetime I have already lived through an “inevitable” ice age that never materialized and “inevitable” mass starvation (through overpopulation) that also never happened. When I was in Central America I remember reading a book called Inevitable Revolutions by the historian Walter LaFeber, but more than a quarter of a century later the inevitable still had not taken place. By now, according to predictions, most of us should have been dead from AIDS, that is if variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or Ebola virus had not got us first. The repeated failure of confident predictions is therefore almost enough to make one sceptical of dire visions of the future. Only the sheer pleasure of contemplating catastrophe to come keeps the market for apocalypses alive.

One of our present concerns in the western world is the rapid aging of the population. Never have so many people lived to so ripe an old age, and this at a time when the birth rate is falling. Who is going to support the doddering old fools who will soon be more numerous than the energetic and productive young?

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine points out that something unexpected has happened to confound the gloomy prognostications of epidemiologists and demographers. As the percentage of people surviving into old age increases, so the proportion of them who suffer from dementia decreases. People are not only living longer, but living better. This is a phenomenon that has happened across the western world.

The article states that “in 1993, 12.2% of surveyed adults 70 years of age or older [in America] had cognitive impairment, as compared with 8.7% in 2002.” Similar results have been obtained elsewhere. In the light of this unexpected and unpredicted trend, estimates of the prevalence of dementia in England have had to be revised downwards by 24 percent. The burden of the elderly on the economy will therefore not be as great as was feared.

What accounts for the decline in the prevalence of dementia?

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Top Rated Comments   
Seniors who live alone without family in their daily life will not get be diagnosed, nor participate in studies. The trend to isolation of individuals continues, and no one cares for people they don't see. Also, a senior who lives alone has learned quite an array of defensive measures to keep anyone at bay who might otherwise call them incapacitated in some way. They fight for their independence if they are already accustomed to living alone. They may habitually burn their meals, but they can fake competence in an interview for at least 15 minutes.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (23)
All Comments   (23)
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Well, could it be that today many people who have dementia are now being misdiagnosed as being normal, healthy, low information Democrat voters?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
this study depends on "surveyed adults"………..meaningless.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, now we just call it Leftism, not dementia. (See: Modernism and Madness, by Louis Sass, 1994)
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, you have a 10 year swath of history on either side of the equation to begin with. The 1993 group was born in 1923 or before. For instance, that would probably include survivors of the Spanish Flu. My paternal grandfather had it, survived, and then died in the mid-twenties. Based on descriptions of him he was healthy as a horse before his brush w/ the flu. Not exactly the same after. Besides which The Great War was a disaster for the west which took decades to recover from, just in time for WW2. Which brings us to our second group, born about 1933, born during the Depression, during TB, polio and God knows what. However, that group escaped WW2. The first group DIDN'T.

My father was old when he became a father. He was born in 1910. Saw it all, did it all. I was young enough to avoid having the Vietnam draft over my head by my 16th birthday. There is no comparing the challenges and hardships of our respective lives which occurred on the same planet, different worlds.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The article states that “in 1993, 12.2% of surveyed adults 70 years of age or older [in America] had cognitive impairment, as compared with 8.7% in 2002.”

It is extremely unlikely that things would change that much in such a short period of time, so this is very likely bogus. At a minimum it raises all manner of red flags. It seems to resemble a "hockey stick" as in the now discredited "global warming"
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Several years ago, I read a study by a group of Harvard medical researchers (I believe) that looked into the relationship between childhood diseases and old age mortality.

They were not able to establish a one to one cause, but they did find strong probable relationship between specific childhood diseases and specific reasons for old age mortality. For example they could say something along the lines of: if you had scarlet fever as a child there was statistical evidence of a good a good probability you would most likely suffer from congestive heart failure as an older adult.

It may be that since whole generations have now been immunized against almost all childhood diseases (and a host of others) and have not had them, their bodies have not experienced the trauma and changes those diseases produce and are experiencing longer lives with different old age symptoms and causes of mortality.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The same reasons that are enabling people to live longer are enabling more people to avoid dementia: quitting smoking, more exercise, more healthful diet. Those who are obese, diabetic and hypertensive aren't going to live that long in the first place. Make soda sweetened with sugar/corn sweetener ineligible for food stamps (ebt), to stop the obesity/type 2 diabetes epidemic among poor blacks and hispanics.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Laurent, lemme help you. Conservative Econ 101: High-fructose corn syrup is used nowhere in the world except the U.S.A. Why? Because of those high tariffs on cane sugar that price world market sugar out of the reach of food manufacturers. All for the benefit of the eeevil Fanjul Bros. (FL sugarcane) and U.S. Sugar (Midwest sugar-beet farmers).

They are legendary for being some of the most well-connected special interests in the country. If I was a Repubelican preezy I'd have ICE pounce on the sugar processing operations during the harvest season (cane juice goes bad real fast once the cane is cut, dunno about sugar beets). That industry runs on illegal alien labor. A handful of ICE agents checking ID's at the gates would derail the entire industry. Then, declare a National Sugar Emergency and "temporarily" suspend the "protective" tariffs.

Result? You won't have to go to Mexico any longer to obtain cane-sugar sweetened Coca Cola...among many other things, vast swaths of what used to be the Florida Everglades would probably be left to revert back to wetlands.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Could be it's a result of fairly widespread use of LSD (and other psychedelics) by a generation already crazy? There's a substance that needs to be studied more.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seniors who live alone without family in their daily life will not get be diagnosed, nor participate in studies. The trend to isolation of individuals continues, and no one cares for people they don't see. Also, a senior who lives alone has learned quite an array of defensive measures to keep anyone at bay who might otherwise call them incapacitated in some way. They fight for their independence if they are already accustomed to living alone. They may habitually burn their meals, but they can fake competence in an interview for at least 15 minutes.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately, American families are not close (compared to other countries). Members live in different states and we'd rather put Granny into assisted living than take care of her ourselves. There are a lot of benefits to the extended family living together,
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
We tend to see what we want to see, as observation of any blue-rinsed GOP dowager will demonstrate.

A 1993 study vs a 2013 study. Is this apples to apples? Everyone wants to think so. Let's hope.

Meanwhile, common sense would suggest keeping you mind active: learning and using a foreign language is high on the list.

An example of the primrose path that leads to decrepitude: How many times have you met an elderly 'expert' who went to Europe, once, on vacation twenty years ago -- and is now an expert on macroeconomics and geopolitics.
Maybe ask yourself whether you're at risk.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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