Recently featured on a segment of "60 Minutes," did a segment recently on the 90 plus study on dementia development in a rapidly growing segment of the population: individuals over 90 years of age. This extensive study, one of the nation's largest, explores various health factors, including dementia, in this remarkable demographic. The findings offer valuable insights into the challenges posed by an aging population and underscore the importance of public health responses to meet their evolving needs.
The Remarkable Rise of Nonagenarians:
In recent history, we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of individuals living to the age of 90 and beyond. The 90+ Study delves into this demographic phenomenon, with the current count of nonagenarians in the United States reaching 2 million. Projections suggest that this number will surge to 10 to 12 million by the mid-century mark. As our society ages, it prompts crucial questions about public health strategies and the specific needs of this growing population.
Findings and Dementia:
The research findings from the 90 Plus Study, focusing on dementia, were published in the July 2014 issue of "Neurology," a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. While two uncontrollable risk factors for dementia are age and genetics, the study highlights that lifestyle choices can influence the development of certain types of dementia.
Notably, the study reports a decline in the incidence of vascular and mixed dementias. This positive trend is attributed to public health campaigns emphasizing healthy eating, regular exercise, and smoking cessation. These efforts have contributed to a reduction in these specific forms of dementia.
Alarming Alzheimer's Statistics:
Regrettably, the study also reveals a disheartening lack of decline in the incidence of Alzheimer's disease, a major form of dementia. The research indicates that the likelihood of developing dementia increases with age, with a notable spike beyond the age of 90. For instance, the incidence of dementia for those aged 65-69 is less than 2 percent, rising to 5 percent for those aged 75-79. Astonishingly, it surges to over 20 percent for those aged 85-89, and for individuals over 90, the incidence of dementia doubles every five years, particularly among women.
The study's findings have sparked curiosity regarding why women appear to develop dementia at a faster rate than men. Is it due to the fact that a higher number of women live longer than men, or are there underlying factors contributing to this gender disparity?
Interestingly, nearly half of the participants with dementia over the age of 90 displayed insufficient neuropathological evidence (brain damage) to explain their cognitive decline. This phenomenon adds complexity to our understanding of dementia development.
The Role of Genetics:
The study also underscores the role of genetics, revealing that individuals over 90 carrying the APOE2 gene (associated with Alzheimer's) are less likely to exhibit the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's dementia. However, they are more likely to display Alzheimer's neuropathology in their brains.
The Call for Enhanced Resources:
In light of these findings, the 90 Plus Study underscores the urgency of developing and providing the necessary resources to care for the growing number of individuals living beyond 90 years of age. Addressing the challenges posed by dementia in this demographic requires innovative approaches and increased support from the healthcare and research communities.
The 90 Plus Study has provided invaluable insights into dementia development, particularly among those aged 90 and beyond. While some forms of dementia have seen a decline, Alzheimer's disease remains a pressing concern. As we continue to witness the rise of nonagenarians, it is crucial to prioritize research, resources, and public health initiatives to meet the evolving needs of this remarkable and rapidly growing segment of our population.