There are currently 50 million people around the world living with dementia, and it is believed that this overall statistic is made up of over 400,000 Australians.
Nearly one out of every ten Australians over the age of 65 have dementia and it is currently the single greatest cause of disability for Australians in this age group.
But according to new research that was recently published in the Journal of Gerontology, current research actually suggests that the rate of dementia in Australia is actually on the decline and that there may now be a need to reassess current estimates of the disease.
Researchers from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) utilised data from the Registry of Older South Australians, that included information on people who have accessed aged care services nationally.
The study of 188,846 older people who were receiving home care services found that the prevalence of dementia had fallen significantly from 26 percent in 2005, to 21 percent in 2014.
While the 348,311 older people who were starting long-term care saw dementia rates fall from 50 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014, and according to the researcher from SAHMRI these statistics are consistent with the findings from other high-income countries like the US and UK.
While this information is definitely positive, Australia’s ageing population means that the overall number of Australians with dementia is still set to increase, and it is thought that there will be a million Australians living with dementia within the next three decades.
What Is The Reason for The Decrease In Dementia?
While the statistical evidence does not provide us with any ironclad evidence for the reasoning behind the decrease in dementia prevalence, researchers believe that the drop can be attributed to the changing and healthier lifestyle choices being made by Australians as a whole.
South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) Doctor and lead author of the study Stephanie Harrison, spoke with HelloCare and outlined some of the factors that she believes may have attributed to the decline in dementia prevalence.
“We don’t have a full picture as to why dementia rates are declining, but what we do know is that previous research has shown strong links between potentially modifiable factors,” said Dr. Harrison.
Things like cardiovascular health especially at midlife, maintaining a healthy weight, healthy blood pressure levels, being physically active and not smoking, can all help reduce dementia risk.”
“We know in Australia that some risk factors for dementia are declining, like the number of people who are smoking, but there other social factors like obesity that is actually increasing and increases the risk, so it’s likely to be a combination of factors, but most importantly, there’s still room for improvement.”
One surprising factor that may also play a part is the decline of dementia prevalence is education.
There have been a number of studies over the years that have indicated that people who have less formal education have an increased risk of dementia when compared to those that have had further education in the early stages of life.
And while Dr. Harrison could not confirm that this is one of the reasons for the decline of dementia prevalence, she did point out that it is certainly a possibility
“We weren’t able to access data about peoples education rates for this study, but other studies have shown a clear link between education levels in early life and dementia risk.”
“But we do know that education rates are improving in Australia, and this may be one of many different factors that may play a part,” she said.