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U.S. Study Finds Rate Of Cognitive Impairment In Over-70 Crowd Declining

TORONTO - A study of Americans aged 70 and older has found a downward trend in the rate of "cognitive impairment," which encompasses everything from major memory loss to Alzheimer's disease.

The prevalence of cognitive impairment went down by 3.5 percentage points between 1993 and 2002 - from 12.2 per cent to 8.7 per cent, according to the findings.

The study, published online Wednesday in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia, looked at 11,000 people and found that those with more formal education and personal wealth were less likely to have cognitive problems.

The reasons for the decline aren't fully known, the researchers said.

"From these results, we can say that brain health among older Americans seems to have improved in the decade studied, and that education and wealth may be a big piece of the puzzle," lead author Dr. Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan Medical School said in a release.

"We know mental stimulation has an impact on the way a person's brain is 'wired,' and that education early in life likely helps build up a person's cognitive reserve. We also know cardiovascular health has a close link with brain health."

"So what we may be seeing here is the accumulated effects of better education and better cardiovascular prevention among the people who were over age 70 in 2002, compared with those who were over age 70 in 1993."

One of Canada's leading stroke experts said the difference in the numbers seems real and significant, and he concurred that the decline could reflect efforts to prevent cardiovascular disease.

"We know from a number of studies, including one that we just published in January, that stroke is one of the things that makes you cognitively impaired," said Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, a professor of neurology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.

"So if you can prevent or delay stroke, you can prevent or delay cognitive impairment."

Education may be playing a role, too. As people become better educated and lead healthier lifestyles, they may have less vascular disease, he suggested.

"But I think that it emphasizes again that we are not helpless, we can do something about cognitive competence in older age groups," Hachinski said Wednesday from New Orleans, where he was attending the International Stroke Conference.

The findings, though based on a U.S. population, could have relevance in Canada as well.

"In terms of populations and lifestyles, I think we're rather similar, so it would be very surprising if it were different," Hachinski said.

"It may differ in degree, the percentage may not be exactly the same - they're never the same from study to study - but I think that the message is strong enough that it's likely to be true in Canada, and I suspect probably western Europe."

Reproduced from http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5j9ZLqp65FJQC4WVovSChaioeFbAw

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