The federal government will promote healthy aging and accelerate research on risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias under a new goal added as part of an annual update to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, HHS announced over the holidays — Dec. 27, to be exact.
“Although these diseases cannot yet be prevented, there is growing evidence that addressing certain risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure, physical inactivity and chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and depression, may lower the chances of developing the disease or delay its onset,” the department said in an announcement.
The plan still has a goal of preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias by 2025. Other continuing goals include enhancing care quality and efficiency; expanding supports for people with dementia, and their families; enhancing public awareness and engagement; and improving data to track progress.
The news comes on the heels of reports of fast-tracked investigational Alzheimer’s therapies, the potential of repurposed Viagra and drugs for cancer and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder for use against Alzheimer’s, the halving of the price for aducanumab (Aduhelm), as well as research finding an “abrupt decline” in the prevalence of serious cognitive impairment among U.S. adults aged 65 and older compared with the same age group a decade earlier. That latter study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, included 5.4 million older adults living in congregate settings as well as in the greater community.
Researchers, who said they were “astonished” by the finding, attributed 60% of the decline in serious cognitive impairment between 2008 and 2017 to generational differences in educational attainment, noting that each successive decade has had “much greater opportunities to pursue post-secondary education.” Extensive previous research, they said, has found that every additional year of formal schooling lowers the risk of individuals eventually developing dementia.
What is responsible for the other 40% of the decline in serious cognitive impairment? The authors hypothesize several possibilities, including improvement across the generations in nutrition, declines in smoking and air pollution, and the phase out of leaded gasoline — all of which tie into the new healthy aging-related goal of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.
Regardless of the reason for the decline in the prevalence of serious cognitive problems, it “has a cascade of benefits for older adults, their families and caregivers, the health and long-term care system, and the whole U.S. economy,” according to lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto.
It’s promising news to start the new year.