Do you worry about getting dementia in later life, because it’s so prevalent? Well, here’s a shocker.
Only 2% of the American population gets dementia. You probably thought it was around 25, 30, maybe even 50%, right? Because we hear about it so often, and it’s admittedly overwhelming for the people who have it and their loved ones. But still. 2%?
And that small percentage has dropped by almost half in the past fifty years, from 3.5% in the 1970s, according to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Now, it’s true that the numbers are up, because there are more old people hanging around. But you’re less likely to get it than people born a couple generations ago.
So if 98% of us won’t get dementia, why do we freak out every time we forget something?
We have been sold a bill of goods. We’ve been told to expect dain bramage (as my piano teacher calls it) in later life, but it seems that this isn’t a huge probability. If you were told there was a 2% chance of rain, would you cancel the picnic?
I don’t mean to minimize the reality of dementia. It’s poorly understood and frequently misdiagnosed, it can be devastating to those who have it and their loved ones, there is no cure on the horizon, and the amount of money spent on research by the federal government is laughable.
Although it was a relief to read the article, my immediate reaction was anger. In fact, I was so mad I was practically yelling, until Bill said, “So this is good news, right?” And I had to apologize and we both laughed at my attitude. But it pisses me off, because there’s a ton of evidence that the more bad stuff you believe about getting older, the more it affects your health as you age. Those negative beliefs can shorten your life by 7.5 years.
Part of the reason dementia rates are dropping is because heart health and care is improving. However, obesity is one of the factors that can increase your chances. In case we needed more reason to eat less and exercise more.
So that’s the good news, and I apologize for all the yelling.