Medical researchers have known for some time that the prevalence of dementia doubles every five years among people over 65. It hasn't been clear, however, whether that trend continues into the 90s and beyond. This week, after surveying more than 900 people over the age of 90, researchers have offered an answer: yes for women, no for men.
The news for men isn't as encouraging as it seems. Fewer men in their 90s were found to suffer from dementia: 28 percent, compared to 45 percent of women. But the difference wasn't because men were less likely to get dementia; rather, it seems to be because they died more quickly with it. "Men and women get dementia at the same rate. Since women live longer with dementia, we find more women at any given age with the disease," says Maria Corrada, an epidemiologist from the University of California-Irvine who led the study.
Darn. After blogging about the fact that men seem to die earlier than women and in disproportionate numbers from many conditions, I thought that I had finally found one disease where men have a leg up.
If not, what to do? There's emerging evidence that men (and women, too) may be able to stave off certain types of dementia or dampen the condition's devastating effects temporarily by taking certain steps:
• Consider light therapy. A Dutch study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that exposing elderly nursing-home-bound people to bright lights all day improved some symptoms of dementia and reduced levels of depression.
• Keep HDL high. Research published this week links low HDL cholesterol to higher rates of dementia, my colleague, Deborah Kotz, explains. More research is needed to confirm this link, but Kotz reports that exercising more and eating fewer refined carbohydrates can help raise HDL.
• Stay social. A recent study of older women showed that staying social may help keep dementia at bay.
• Get rid of belly fat. A study published in March showed that excess belly fat is linked to dementia. My colleague, January Payne, reported on this.
• Exercise Your Brain. There's growing evidence, we reported in January, that keeping your brain busy with activities such as reading, dancing, or playing an instrument can decrease your odds of developing dementia.