Good news for older Americans: A new study suggests that their odds of getting dementia are shrinking despite predictions to the contrary. While standardized tests showed 11.6% of Americans 65 and older had dementia in 2000, only 8.8% did in 2012, reports NBC News. What's more, people are getting dementia later, with the average age at diagnosis increasing from 80.7 to 82.4 over the same period, reports the New York Times. One possible factor: A person's average education increased during that period from 11.8 years to 12.7 years, say University of Michigan researchers. "Education might actually change the brain itself," lead author Kenneth Langa tells NPR. "We think that it actually creates more, and more complicated, connections between the nerve cells so that you're able to keep thinking normally later into life."
Another potential factor: While health ailments linked to dementia such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol increased, people were treating them with better medications. The study draws on long-range data about 20,000 Americans from all kinds of backgrounds, and Langa says it suggests that dire predictions about the nation's dementia problem might have been been overstated. The Alzheimer's Association isn't so sure: Though dementia rates may be falling, "the total number of Americans with Alzheimer's and other dementias is expected to continue to increase dramatically" as the number of older adults climbs," it says. In the US, the number of people 65 and older is projected to double by 2050, notes NPR. (A game could reduce your dementia risk.)