Chance of a senior developing Alzheimer's has dropped 44% over the last 30 years

The odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease fell sharply among seniors in the United States over the last 30 years, according to research presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen. The finding casts a new light on prior estimates that the number of people needing long-term care will triple by 2050, largely due to Alzheimer’s.

Among people 60 and older, new cases of Alzheimer’s were 44% lower in the 2006 to 2011 time period than they were between 1978 and 1982, researchers said. This is based on the Framingham study, a federally funded initiative tracking several thousand people over multiple five-year periods.

Fewer people smoking and more robust efforts to maintain cardiovascular health could explain the trend, said study leader Claudia Satizabal, Ph.D., of Boston University. She also said that having a high school diploma correlated with lower Alzheimer’s risk, according to news reports from the conference.

Long-term care providers in the United States have been preparing for a surge in residents as the baby boomer generation ages, and they already have been providing care for a growing number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The latest results suggest that estimates of needed services might be revised downward; however, increasing rates of obesity and diabetes suggest Alzheimer’s cases might again creep up, investigators said.

Countries similar to the United States, including Germany and England, also have seen declines in Alzheimer’s, the researchers noted. However, developing nations are seeing more cases.