Researchers in the Netherlands have estimated that one in two women, and one in three men will develop dementia, a form of Parkinson’s disease or have a stroke in their lifetime. The findings are published today (1 October) in the scientific publication, The Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry.
Dutch researchers investigated over 12,000 people who were at least 45 years old and who did not have dementia, any form of Parkinson’s or had a stroke at the start of the study in 1990.
The researchers followed the study volunteers for up to 26 years and recorded if people developed dementia, stroke or symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Over the course of the study 1,400 people developed dementia, with the majority of these people diagnosed with the most common cause of the condition, Alzheimer’s disease; while nearly 1,300 had a stroke, and 263 were diagnosed with some form of Parkinson’s.
They found that the likelihood of developing these health problems increased with age. They also found that 48.2% of women aged over 45 were likely to develop either dementia, have a stroke or a form of Parkinson’s in their lifetime, compared to 36.2% of men at the same age.
The increased risk of developing dementia for women largely drove the increased risk across all three health conditions. However, scientists also found that women were also twice as likely to develop both dementia and stroke during their lifetime.
Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This large study underscores the enormous impact that neurological illnesses have across society and how women are disproportionately affected, particularly when it comes to dementia. Based on their analysis, the researchers estimated that one in two women over the age of 45 would be likely to have a stroke or develop a form of dementia or Parkinson’s disease, and we need to make sure that funding for research grows to reflect the scale of this challenge.
“This Dutch study found a higher overall risk of neurological illness than we have seen in other large studies, and the researchers suggest that this may be due to the particularly high life expectancy in the Netherlands. Life expectancy in the UK isn’t far behind that of the Netherlands and without new treatments or preventions, neurological conditions are only going to continue to become more prevalent as we are all living longer. A drug that could delay the onset of dementia symptoms by just five years could reduce the number of people living with the condition by a third, and it is crucial we step up efforts to make this kind of treatment a reality.
“For most of us, our individual risk of illnesses like dementia is not set in stone and there are things we can all do to help maintain a healthy brain. The best current evidence suggests that eating a balanced diet, controlling our weight, staying physically active, not smoking, only drinking within the recommended limits and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check are all associated with better brain health into old age.”