CAMBRIDGE, England, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Researchers were surprised to find the number of people living with dementia in Western Europe, including the number of new diagnoses, has stabilized over the last 20 years.
The findings of the new study, published in The Lancet, were unexpected because of predictions based on the growing number of people over 65 years old.
While researchers are unsure, they said there may be components of dementia that have not been discovered which can, at the very least, help to delay development of the condition.
"The age-specific prevalence has gone down so even though the population has got older, the number of patients with dementia has stayed the same," Carol Brayne, a professor at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC. "It may be possible that we can defer dementia rather than prevent it entirely -- it's very unlikely that we can prevent it entirely."
Researchers reviewed data from 5 studies of dementia prevalence in England, Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands, which spanned periods from almost 20 years to 30 years long, finding that 4 of the 5 studies showed a leveling off of dementia diagnoses and people with the condition. The study done in England, which was specifically aimed at looking for differences between generations, found a 22 percent drop in dementia prevalence.
Some of the leveling off, researchers wrote in the study, could be attributed to improved living conditions and healthcare. Early prevention and treatment of risk factors that increase the risk of developing dementia also may play a role in the leveling off, they wrote.
"We are talking about a generation which experienced substantial post-war investments in education and socialized healthcare, and a partial reduction in social inequalities as a result," the researchers said in a press release. "If it has worked thus far, the same kind of approach might be the best way forward for the future."