The Guardian has recently reported on new scientific research which reveals that the proportion of people living with dementia in the UK has fallen by a fifth over the last 20 years.
Research from a team of scientists from the Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia and Newcastle has found that the number of people diagnosed each year with dementia has decreased from 20.1 per 1000 people in the early 1990s to 17.7 between 2008 and 2013.
The research, funded by the Medical Research Council, comprises two studies, one undertaken between 1990 and 1995 and the other between 2008 and 2013. By using the same interview methods in the studies, the dementia rates then and now could be directly compared.
The most likely explanation for this drop in figures is thought to be changes in lifestyle, with people tending to smoke less and exercise more. Carol Brayne, co-author of the study, told The Guardian that: “Physical health and brain health are clearly highly linked”.
The significance of the findings is that the risk of developing the condition can be reduced by the lifestyle choices made when young. Stopping smoking, keeping to a healthy weight and taking regular exercise may all help to reduce the chances of getting dementia later in life.
In particular, the study reveals that the number of men developing the condition has dropped significantly. The most dramatic decrease in rates of dementia was for men aged 65-69 for whom the rates almost halved. Rates for women have also decreased but to a lesser extent. Although the reason for this discrepancy is unclear, it has been suggested that men have made significant changes to the way they live now compared to in the 1990s. According to Carol Brayne: “One interpretation might be that women have already achieved the gains that there were to gain”.
Not only are these findings very positive but they also highlight the link between lifestyle choices and the chances of developing dementia. But James Pickett of the Alzheimer’s Society warns that there are still more than 200,000 new cases of dementia every year.
Helen Hammond, senior associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “As dementia is a devastating condition that affects many people in the UK, the findings are very important to further our understanding of the condition.”