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An unfortunate condition that many American families deal with is dementia. Families watch the agonising process unfold and try their best as elderly relatives lose their memories and abilities. Care is still costly and elusive for many people. Dementia research is a top priority in medicine since the baby boomer generation in America is rapidly approaching retirement. However, there is positive news.

Despite ongoing disparities, a recent study supported by the National Institute on Aging and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a significant decline in the prevalence of dementia in people over 65.

The researchers examined cognitive tests and the prevalence of clinically diagnosed dementia using data from over 20,000 people. To determine the change over time, they examined the years 2000 to 2016. They made a fantastic discovery: in 2016, age-adjusted prevalence rates of dementia dropped from 12.2% to 8.5%. This 3.7% decline is a clear improvement and portends better news for the majority of the population, which is currently approximately 65 years old. It's interesting to note that between 2000 and 2004, the first four years under review, saw the fastest decline. Not all gains were equal, even though progress is shared across racial, gender, and class lines.

Women's prevalence rates decreased more than men's during the same period, but they are still higher. Although the prevalence rates of Black men also decreased more than those of White men, their overall prevalence is still higher today. In summary, disparities in dementia rates appear to be correlated with societal inequities. Reducing smoking, improving cardiovascular health, and increasing education are all considered to lower the risk of dementia. Specifically, the researchers discovered that a significant shift in the college-educated population, which was over 65 during the study period, was responsible for 40% of the improvement among men. From 21.5% to 33.7%, it increased. Additionally, there was an increase in women that contributed to a 20% decrease in the prevalence of dementia.

"A key public health policy goal is to reduce health inequalities in general and dementia inequalities in particular, and closing the education gap across racial and ethnic groups may be a powerful tool to achieve this," the author stated. During the study period, the majority of individuals over 65 belonged to the Silent generation and the older Baby Boomer generation, which had college degree rates of approximately 15% and 24%, respectively. Millennials, however, made up 39% of the population in 2018. Similar to Gen X, but not like earlier generations, women now make up a larger percentage of those in higher education. Though persistent disparities remain, more people of colour are able to attend college now than in the 1960s. 

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