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Major UK study finds 20% drop in dementia risk in 20 years

The incidence of dementia in UK over-65s has decreased over time, a major UK study has found.

Overall there was a 20% drop in the incidence of dementia in the population aged 65 or over, but people living in deprived areas remained at a higher risk than others.

The Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS) saw researchers at the University of Cambridge, Newcastle University, Nottingham University and the University of East Anglia interviewing 7,500 people in three regions of the UK, and repeated interviews after two years to estimate incidence.

This was then repeated 20 years later in a new group of 7,500 people from the same localities aged 65 and over.

The scientists found that as the population of over-65s was growing, the increase in the number of dementia cases recorded per year was far smaller than expected - from 183,000 recorded in 1991 to 210,000 cases per year at the present time.

Of the almost 210,000 per year currently diagnosed, 74,000 are men and 35,000 women, the paper published in Nature Communications said.

But the study also concluded more could be done to prevent the disease, estimating some 30% of cases may have been avoidable through lifestyle changes.

The paper concluded that brain health is changing across generations but, with people in disadvantaged circumstances most at risk, positive change was most likely with major investment in population health measures.

The paper said: ‘Lack in progress in access to education, patterns of malnutrition in childhood and persistent in equalities within and across countries will play out. Policy makers and politicians will need to take into account the now compelling evidence that such changes in the onset and occurrence of dementia are possible.’

A study published in the Lancet last year also found that dementia rates are actually stabilising rather than increasing, calling for policy makes to put more emphasis on prevention.

Readers' comments (4)

  • However Policy Makers across the UK have been basing targets on previous prevalence estimates.

    For example, in NHS England using the "Dementia Prevalence calculator" and in Scotland, HEAT Target 4, which was set on Eurodem figures (from decades ago). In NHS England “Cash for Dementia” (as termed by some) was instituted, and only after heavy criticism, was it dropped.

    The risk here is that a number of those aged 65 years and over were assessed against a background of targets and political pressure which were advanced ahead of science and the person.

    Dr Peter J Gordon

    I have consistently advocated for a timely approach to the diagnosis of dementia and that targets in this area should be abandoned. I found that I had little support from my colleagues in psychiatry, no support from policy leads and "healthcare improvers”. I also found that I was isolated and criticised by those in a genuine position of power.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The government's 'pet theory' about dementia has defined its ignorance .

    ''The discovery of instances which confirm a theory means very little if we have not tried, and failed, to discover refutations. For if we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmation, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favour of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted.''
    Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism

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  • That 20% drop completely unrelated to the 'disastrous' New GP Contract of 2004 then?

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  • They paid GPs to identify dementia and the entrepreneurial ones jacked up the numbers with CCGs telling them to put on dementia registers even those just referred for assessments. Many in their 50s had their heads counted.
    How far can you go and hence the lull in business which is deemed as a drop and improvement in the demented state of NHS.

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