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Are Dementia Rates Declining? A Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.

Celebrating the release of my brand-new dementia book, I want to investigate whether or not dementia rates are declining or increasing. Due to the advancement of medical care or maybe the ageing population of certain worlds will lead to an increase in dementia rates. In this great podcast episode we investigate this clinical psychology topic in depth to help you understand more about dementia. If you enjoy mental health, neuroscience and clinical psychology then you’ll love today’s episode.

This episode has been sponsored by Dementia Psychology: A Biological Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience Guide To Dementia. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.

Extract From Dementia Psychology By Connor Whiteley. COPYRIGHT 2023 Connor Whiteley.

Before we move onto the last two chapters of the book, I wanted us to look at a very interesting argument and some findings from a recent study on dementia rates. The main reason why I wanted us to look at this is simply because in psychology and science as a whole, we always need to look at both sides of an argument, and dementia is no different.

Therefore, one of the subtle arguments throughout the book and in the dementia literature is that dementia rates will only grow and grow and grow over the next few decades, but this might not be the case possibly after all.

Yet if it does than all these dementia cases will put an immense pressure on our society, medical services and other public services and these will only cost more and more to taxpayers. Then there’s the personal costs because families will be devastated that this is happening to their loved one and they will somehow have to pay for care.

As well as with a lot of western countries like the United Kingdom and Italy have ageing populations, these only encourage the rates of dementia cases to rise.

As a result, in an article by The Alzheimer Cohorts Consortium, they suggest that the dementia case burden might not be as bad as feared. Due to they presents results of a comprehensive research project examining thousands of people aged over 65 between 1988 and 2015.

For their study they used 9 cohort studies in United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Iceland and France, along with data collected from 49,202 participants and it must be noted that 59% of the participants were female. But as you’ll see in our final chapter is this is probably not a population or sample bias, it might be a great realistic look at the dementia population.

Out of all these people studied in the cohort studies, 4,253 participants unfortunately developed some form of dementia by 2015 and the incidence of new dementia diagnosis is steadily increasing with age.

Although, against the expectations of the researchers, there was a 13% decrease in all-cause dementia per decade since 1998 with a similar decrease found for cases of Alzheimer’s disease alone, as well as men showed a much higher decrease than women of 24% compared to 8%.

I know that was a lot of information in that paragraph but it’s basically saying there was a lot of decreases in different groups, suggesting an overall decrease in dementia cases.

Consequently, if these trends continue in Europe and North America over the next few decades, there could be 15 million fewer dementia cases than expected in high-income countries alone.

Possibly meaning by 2040, there could be 60 million fewer new cases of dementia. That would be brilliant.

In addition, whilst this study seems to contradict earlier studies, thankfully these trends do seem fairly robust over time and across different countries.

Personally, this is a great study to look at because its methodology does use a lot of my favourite research techniques, and that’s actually what makes it a very powerful study.

Since the study uses data from a lot of people and 6 different countries on two different continents. Therefore, it is a lot more difficult for critics to condemn the study for making grand conclusions based on tiny amounts of data from a single country.

Instead because there are so many participants from so many different countries and continents, these results suggest there is a universal behavioural trend going on that dementia rates are decreasing in higher income countries.

Of course, as psychology students and professionals, we always need to be balanced. So I will add that these results (like the research says) can only apply to higher income countries because no middle or lower income countries were used in the research sample, and as you’ll see in the next two chapters those types of countries have their own problems.

Also, I am slightly concerned about the size of the research sample overall compared to the population of those countries. For example, off the top of my head, the USA’s population is around 350 million people and according to in 2020 16.9% of the US’s population was aged over 65 giving us around 59 million people.

Therefore, even if all 49,000 participants where from the US then this isn’t a very large sample and probably representative of the overall over 65 population in each country. Especially when you have stark regional differences like the USA (next chapter).

I know it’s a bit picky but there are just some limitations of the research.

Possible Explanations

Building upon these findings, there are no easy explanations for why this decrease seems to be happening, but it is important to find out why says the lead author of the research Albert Hofman. As well as he acknowledges the true explanation is likely related to overall improvements in medical care over decades for older adults in high income countries.

For example, over the past few decades there have been improvements in cardiovascular treatment like statins and other medications to control blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol, and as we saw from a previous chapter, maintaining good cardiovascular health is important to protect your health and reduce risk of dementia.

In addition, over the past few decades as the public and society as a whole have become more aware of healthy living. There have been a lot of people introducing other healthy lifestyle changes and more to help them ensure they have a healthier life, and this helps many people who might have developed dementia otherwise.

On the other hand, there has been a sharp rise in diabetes and obesity in western countries and according to Hofman (and I highly doubt any medical professional would disagree) these are two risk factors not helpful in curbing dementia.

Moreover, over the past few decades, there has been an amazing rise in access to education and other mental stimulation to older people. Like the rise in websites, online courses and other educational content.

For example, I would personally like to add that the rise of the internet has allowed older adults and everyone to access more information so they can learn and keep their minds active. As well as the rise of podcasts, like my one The Psychology World Podcast, have allowed older people to learn on the go and just listen if reading is a bit harder than it used to be.

In fact, I get a good amount of emails a year and I’m really pleased that I’m able to help these older adults learn, stay active and hopefully reduce their risk of dementia. And the same goes for eBook or print books really, they are easier and cheaper to get now so this gives older people even more access to information.

Dementia Psychology Conclusion

Overall, this study might be very promising and it is truly amazing that we have such a hopeful finding from research. But we cannot stop worrying about the dramatic rises in dementia cases and potential impacts, because even if the predictions are not as bad as we feared, there will still be a lot of cases that will seriously strain our loved ones and our healthcare infrastructure.

Then again, this does suggest that having proper healthcare and staying both mentally and physically active could help older adults live much longer and more productive lives.

And that’s something all of us definitely want for ourselves, our friends and our loved ones.

I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Dementia Psychology: A Biological Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience Guide To Dementia. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.

Have a great day.

Cognitive Psychology Reference

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