Cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have increased sharply in the US over the past several years. The reason why it is taken for granted: as the American population grows older, dementia becomes more prevalent. But Alzheimer’s and other dementias may be spreading faster than many people think. Why is Dementia Rate Rising 5X as Fast as US Population
A new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has found that cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia are projected to increase from 6 million cases in 2017 to 15 million cases by 2060. That’s an increase of 150%. Over the same period, America’s population is projected to grow from 323.1 million to 416.8 million. That’s an increase of just 29%.
If these projections hold true, this means that cases of dementia in America will increase at 5 times the rate of the US population across the next four decades.
So why is the dementia rate growing so much faster than the American population? An aging populace is the main reason — America’s senior population will more than double over the next 40 years. But this doesn’t completely explain the discrepancy. When you crunch the numbers, an aging population only explains 3 out of every 4 cases of dementia projected by the NIH study. No matter how you look at it, cases of dementia are spreading faster than they should be.
While nobody has a definitive answer, there are a few theories as to why Alzheimer’s and dementia seem to be spreading at faster-than-expected rates.
- Medical advances in other areas may be extending lifespans, meaning more Americans are reaching the age where they develop Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
- Changes in the typical American lifestyle — including changes to diet and exercise habit — may be putting more people at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
- Changes to home, work, and community environments may be exposing more Americans to environmental risk factors that increase dementia rates.
- Another common explanation is that Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnosis practices have become more accurate in recent years. This could mean that cases of dementia aren’t actually rising — they’re just being accurately diagnosed more often. However, most modern studies go to great lengths to account for this possibility, and this theory wouldn’t explain the projections of the NIH study.
Preparing for Higher Rates of Alzheimer’s & Dementia
As important as it may be to know why cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia are spreading, it’s equally important that we know how to respond. Unfortunately, as a nation, we are underprepared for the spread of dementia in the coming decades.
Here’s how we can change that. First, we need to increase awareness and education. Most Americans have a limited understanding of Alzheimer’s, the different types of dementia, and age-related cognitive impairment more widely. We need more people to understand the risk these conditions present, along with how we can prevent, manage, and address their development.
Next, we need to put more resources into dementia treatment and management. This includes expanded research into Alzheimer’s prevention, treatment, and the search for a possible cure. It also includes advance planning for the care needs of those with different types of dementia. This means addressing America’s shortage of professional caregivers, increasing the availability of home dementia care and home Alzheimer’s care services, and encouraging families to plan ahead for the care needs of loved ones.
Finally, we need to do everything possible to defy these projections. After all, they’re just that: projections. Americans have the power to prove them wrong. Research has given us a number of proven ways to prevent, delay, and slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If Americans — particularly those of us who know that we’re at risk of Alzheimer’s — can make adjustments to our diets, our exercise habits, and the spaces where we live and work, we can stop dementia from spreading so rapidly.
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