New evidence from the MRC Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS) published in Nature Communications challenges perceptions of the so-called ‘dementia tsunami’. Several studies suggest that although changing diagnostic methods and criteria are identifying more people as having dementia, societal measures such as education, early- and mid-life health promotions like smoking reduction and attention to diet and exercise may be driving a reduction in risk in some countries.
CFAS is a major Cambridge-based population study led by Professor Carol Brayne (Director, Institute of Public Health) involving collaboration with our local populations, localities and primary care health systems over 29 years. These new figures show that dementia incidence across two decades has dropped by 20%, driven by a reduction in incidence among men at all ages. In the UK there are now just under 210,000 new cases per year: 74,000 men and 135,000 women – compared to an anticipated 250,000 new cases based on previous levels. Incidence rates are higher in more deprived areas.
Professor Brayne says: “While we’ve seen investment in Europe and many other countries, lack of progress in access to education, malnutrition in childhood and persistent inequalities mean that dementia will continue to have a major impact globally. But the so-called dementia ‘tsunami’ is not an inevitability: we can help turn the tide if we take action now.” Professor Fiona Matthews from Newcastle University and the MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge, adds: “Public health measures to reduce risks of developing dementia are vital and potentially more cost effective than relying on early detection and treating dementia once it is present.”