Individual Alzheimer's risk may be dropping, but not overall impact

A broad national study drew attention in November by reporting that dementia rates were declining in the U.S. population — a rare positive note among often-depressing news concerning the mind-wasting disease.

The slowing rate at which older Americans develop Alzheimer’s and related disorders does not mean the impact from dementia is diminishing, however, according to the national Alzheimer’s Association. On Tuesday, it released its annual report on the disease and estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the country has reached a new high of 5.5 million. It predicted nearly half a million people 65 and older will develop new cases of the disease this year.

Why the continuing increase, if that ongoing study of 21,000 older Americans reported in November that the rate of dementia among those age 65 and older had fallen from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012? It stems from sheer demographics — so many baby boomers are now reaching the age where Alzheimer’s risk rises. That volume offsets the indications that, on an individual basis, the likelihood of the disease is going down.

“Although these findings indicate that a person’s risk of dementia at any given age may be decreasing slightly, it should be noted that the total number of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is expected to continue to increase dramatically because of the population’s shift to older ages,” the report states. “Furthermore, it is unclear whether these positive trends will continue into the future given worldwide trends showing increasing mid-life diabetes and obesity — potential risk factors for Alzheimer’s dementia — which may lead to a rebound in dementia risk in coming years.”

It has been calculated that every 8 seconds someone turns 65, with the population that age projected to increase from 48 million now to 88 million by 2050.

Meanwhile, every 66 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s, according to the national association’s 2017 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures report. There’s always a despairing warning about the future in such reports (the statistics are cited frequently by advocates in pursuit of greater research funding) and in this case, it’s that cases among elderly Americans will rise from 5.3 million today (about 200,000 people under age 65 also have the disease) to 13.8 million by 2050. That’s assuming no medical breakthroughs toward a cure arise in the interim.

Among other figures in the Alzheimer’s Association report:

• About 82 percent of those with Alzheimer’s are age 75 or older.

• The disease afflicts 3 percent of people ages 65-74; 17 percent of people ages 75-84; and 32 percent of those 85 and older.

• Two-thirds of the older adults with dementia are women.

• The cost of caring for those with dementia on an annual basis, aside from unpaid family caregiving, is $259 billion, with $175 billion financed by government Medicare and Medicaid programs.

• More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to assist those with dementia, which was valued at $230.1 billion.

Upcoming Events in Aging

Volunteers 55 and older interested in helping monitor water quality are being sought for a new Allegheny County chapter of the Senior Environment Corps. The Allegheny Watershed Alliance and Allegheny County Conservation District are sponsoring the new chapter, which individuals can join regardless of their experience.

Participants in the Senior Environment Corps, which operates in 22 Pennsylvania counties, are trained and provided equipment to visit streams and creeks in teams on a regular basis to evaluate their conditions. An Aging Edge story in July explained the program. Beaver County recently added a chapter, and the effort in Allegheny County will replace a chapter discontinued years ago. Training sessions will be held March 25 at the Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley and April 8 at Walker Park in Edgeworth.

To participate, contact Rebecca Zeyzus at 412-291-8006 or

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.



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