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Dementia Update: Odds of Good Brain Health After Age 65 Seem to be Increasing, New Research Shows

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If you were to read the headlines in some of the articles about aging, you would probably conclude that everybody over the age of 65 is on an inevitable slide toward dementia. Alarming reports make it seem as if every retiree is doomed to a gloomy life with their basic mental faculties severely diminished.

With that in mind, we at AgingOptions consider this just-published article from Kaiser Health News to be refreshingly optimistic. While the number of cases of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, continues to rise – mostly because of the growing population of seniors – a recent study shows that the average senior reaching 65 can actually look forward to more than a dozen years in good cognitive health. And even when some cognitive impairment begins gradually to appear, it doesn’t mean life becomes unhappy. Most men and women facing mild mental decline seem to retain their positive outlook on life, say the researchers.

What Are the Odds?

The Kaiser Health News article was penned by Judith Graham, who writes frequently about issues connected with aging and end-of-life. Her column is called “Dodging Dementia: More of Us Get At Least a Dozen Good, Happy Years after 65.”  Graham begins by asking the question many of us aging boomers have wanted to ask. “You’ve turned 65 and exited middle age,” she writes. “What are the chances you’ll develop cognitive impairment or dementia in the years ahead?”  To provide the answer, Graham turns to an in-depth research study presented last month before a group called the Population Association of America. (You’ll find a link to the 17-page report abstract here.) Two researchers from Duke University analyzed the data and concluded that the majority of seniors do not suffer from cognitive decline, and even those who do still consider themselves happy. “Cognitive impairment doesn’t equate with unhappiness,” wrote one study author. A solid sense of well-being often coexists with mild loss of mental acuity.

What about those statistics that show dementia cases rising dramatically? In fact, they are. “Because the population of older adults is expanding, the number of people affected by dementia is increasing,” writes Graham. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts a staggering growth in the total number of cases, from just under 6 million in 2020 to nearly 14 million by 2050. That huge number poses a major potential health care crisis for our society.

Nevertheless, in terms of probability, the odds of each of us suffering from dementia (in one form or another) as we age are actually going down, and the prognosis for most of us is actually improving. “Most seniors don’t have cognitive impairment or dementia,” Graham reassures us. “Of Americans 65 and older, about 20 to 25 percent have mild cognitive impairment while about 10 percent have dementia,” according to experts on aging. The prevalence does increase with age, but even for people over 85 the majority of people are still not dealing with dementia: the average incidence of dementia among seniors is declining, even as the total number of cases grows.

More Healthy Years to Enjoy

This outlook should affect how we think about our retirement years.  “With longer lives and lower rates of dementia,” says Kaiser’s Judith Graham, “most seniors are enjoying more years of life with good cognition – a welcome trend.” One study out of the University of Southern California compared the average 65-year-old woman in the year 2000 with her counterpart in 2010. During that decade, the research showed measurable improvement. “In 2000,” said the study, “a 65-year-old woman could expect to live 12.5 years with good cognition, four years with mild cognitive impairment and 2.6 years with dementia, on average. A decade later, in 2010, the period in good cognition had expanded to 14.1 years, with 3.9 years spent with mild cognitive impairment and 2.3 years spent with dementia.” (The numbers for men were a bit worse overall but still showed comparable improvement.) When you consider the blessing of an extra few years of good mental health in one’s late 70s, those numbers represent a real blessing to seniors and their families.

The underlying cause of this healthy shift is tough to pinpoint but there are likely a variety of factors. “Improvements in education and nutrition, better control of hypertension and cholesterol, cognitively demanding jobs in middle age, and social engagement in later life may all contribute to this expanded period of good brain health, the study noted.” Dementia research continues to shed new light on detection, prevention and treatment, so here at AgingOptions we’ll continue to keep our eyes open for articles to share with our readers so we can keep you posted.

Maximizing Your Retirement Satisfaction

Planning for the future where your health (mental and physical) is concerned can certainly be a challenge. But our answer at AgingOptions is not to focus strictly on one aspect of retirement planning, such as health care or finances, but instead to consider the totality of your life in retirement: health care, financial security, housing needs, legal protection, and certainly family communication. Without planning for all these critical elements, your so-called retirement plan will prove incomplete: but with these aspects all working together, you’ll have the safe and secure foundation on which to build the retirement future you’ve always dreamed of.

This process is called LifePlanning, and we encourage you to accept our invitation and join Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions at one of our highly popular, information-packed LifePlanning Seminars, offered absolutely free at locations throughout the region. Visit our Live Events page for details of all currently-scheduled seminars – then register online or call our officer during the week. As Kaiser Health News reports, odds are you’ll have many happy and healthy years ahead of you once you reach 65. Enjoy them with a sense of freedom and safety, thanks to the power of your LifePlan. Age on!

(originally reported at

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