GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new nationwide study including researchers from the University of Michigan has found that approximately one in 10 Americans 65 or older has dementia and another 22% have some form of mild cognitive impairment.
The study, the first nationwide study of cognitive impairment in more than 20 years, was published in the medical journal JAMA Monthly.
The study was led by researchers at Columbia University and worked with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, which has been conducting a long-running study on health and retirement for more than 30 years.
For the first time, researchers were able to provide more depth to the data. According to the study, dementia rates are split fairly evenly between men and women, but black and Hispanic people are more likely to develop the disability. Dementia is also found more often in people with lower education levels.
Dr. David Weir, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research, said they are still working on why dementia impacts those populations at a higher rate.
“We don’t really know much about causes. We think some of the things that matter are basically things that matter for a lot of our health, good cardiovascular health, we think good blood pressure control is important. We think diabetes is a risk factor,” Weir told News 8. “So, we would think that populations that have higher rates of hypertension, higher rates of diabetes, are going to have higher risks for dementia, as well. And that seems to be one of the things we’re finding.”
While researchers are working on treatments for dementia and other cognitive impairments, Weir expects rates to drop as scientists develop better treatments for other health risks.
“There are some things that may really be helping, but they are not fundamentally altering the development of brain diseases, and that’s what we need to really make a dent in,” Weir said.
One of the other main findings was that the rate of cognitive impairments rises sharply as people age. The study found an estimated 3% of people between the ages of 65 and 69 had dementia. That rate rose to 35% in people 90 or older.
The study also analyzed the economic impact cognitive impairments play on our country. Researchers estimate the cost of unpaid caregiving in the U.S. costs $257 billion each year and more than $800 billion worldwide.
“Dementia is by far the biggest reason for caregiving in this country,” Weir said. “That caregiving takes three forms. One is people go into nursing homes and are cared for there. Second is people get care in their homes from paid providers. And the third and by far most common way of caring is in the family. Family members may have to quit their jobs in order to care for someone who has dementia.”
Weir, who is an economist by trade, believes dementia and cognitive impairments are also a key part of scams that target the elderly.
“It affects people’s judgment. Right now, people have IRAs, and they have savings and they are vulnerable to fraud and other kinds of financial manipulations,” Weir said.
With a strong national data set sorted, Weir and his fellow researchers now plan to go worldwide.
“Now that we’ve established our approach to the diagnosis, we can take that abroad and do things with those studies,” Weir said. “We hope that the data are going to be used by people looking at causes and consequences.”