Researchers at Columbia University revealed that nearly one in 10 American adults over age 65 have dementia. An additional 22% also suffer from mild cognitive impairment.
Until recently, insight into dementia and mild cognitive impairment rates among Americans was lacking. The study’s lead author, Jennifer J. Manly, Ph.D. and professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University, believes strongly in the value of research on the matter, stating, “Such data are critical for understanding the causes, costs, and consequences of dementia and mild cognitive impairment in the United States, and for informing policies aimed at reducing their impact on patients, families, and public programs.”
The Columbia University study looked at 3,500 people between 2016 and 2017. During that period, each subject underwent exhaustive neuropsychological tests and interviews. The results were then fed through algorithms that could help diagnose dementia or mild cognitive impairment.
While dementia refers to the cognitive challenges that occur in adulthood, mild cognitive impairment is the condition applied to individuals transitioning between normal aging and dementia. In some instances, mild cognitive impairment will not progress into dementia.
Aging brings about sharp increases in rates of dementia and mild cognitive impairment, according to the study. Between the ages of 65 and 69, combined rates average 3% of the group. However, for people aged 90 and above, the rates surge to 35%.
As the demographics of the United States change, with seniors making up increasingly larger proportions of the population, it is expected that the country will wrestle with more instances of cognitive impairment. In 2000, roughly 12% of the United States was 65 and over. By 2050, it is projected to hit 22%, as forecast by Statista Inc.
According to Manly, “With increasing longevity and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, cognitive impairment is projected to increase significantly over the next few decades, affecting individuals, families, and programs that provide care and services for people with dementia.”
Dementia’s economic impact is substantial. When including unpaid family caregiving, the condition costs an estimated $257 billion per year in the United States and $800 billion globally, according to Neuroscience News.
More than just studying the variance between ages, the researchers involved in this study also analyzed the impact of ethnicity, gender, and education levels on the rates of the condition. Data revealed a higher rate of dementia among adults identifying as black or African American, as well as higher rates of mild cognitive impairment among older adults identifying as Hispanic. Lower education levels were also associated with higher levels of dementia and mild cognitive impairment.
According to Manly, the “study is representative of the population of older adults and includes groups that have been historically excluded from dementia research but are at higher risk of developing cognitive impairment because of structural racism and income inequality. If we’re interested in increasing brain health equity in later life, we need to know where we stand now and where to direct our resources.”