You’ve turned 65 and exited middle age. What are the chances you’ll develop cognitive impairment or dementia in the years ahead?
New research about “cognitive life expectancy” — how long older adults live with good versus declining brain health — shows that after age 65 men and women spend more than a dozen years in good cognitive health, on average. And, over the past decade, that time span has been expanding.
By contrast, cognitive challenges arise in a more compressed time frame in later life, with mild cognitive impairment (problems with memory, decision-making or thinking skills) lasting about four years, on average, and dementia (Alzheimer’s disease or other related conditions) occurring over 1½ to two years.
Even when these conditions surface, many seniors retain an overall sense of well-being, according to new research presented last month at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting.
“The majority of cognitively impaired years are happy ones, not unhappy ones,” said Anthony Bardo, a co-author of that study and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky-Lexington.
Recent research finds that:
Most seniors don’t have cognitive impairment or dementia. Of Americans 65 and older, about 20-25% have mild cognitive impairment while about 10% have dementia, according to Dr. Kenneth Langa, an expert in the demography of aging and a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. Risks rise with advanced age, and the portion of the population affected is significantly higher for people over 85.
Langa’s research shows that the prevalence of dementia has fallen in the U.S. — a trend observed in developed countries across the globe. A new study from researchers at the Rand Corp. and the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that 10.5% of U.S. adults age 65 and older had dementia in 2012, compared with 12% in 2000.
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