By age 95, people have a 50% chance of having Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the bad news. But Albert Hofman, new chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert in vascular and neurologic diseases, thinks that that sobering Alzheimer’s statistic will improve in the years to come.

1. It’s predicted that the number of people worldwide living with dementia—about 46 million—will triple by 2050. But you’re hopeful that things will get better in the future. Why?

We’ve learned that Alzheimer’s is a very prevalent disease. We’ve also learned that vascular factors are important causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s. And the good news is that these vascular factors can be influenced. You can do something about your risk for vascular diseases, by treating high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or by not smoking. We have seen a gradual decline in the incidence of dementia over the past decade, and I think it is because of those kinds of preventative interventions. It’s true that there will be more people having dementia as they become older, because numbers of older people in the world are increasing—but the incidence of dementia is not. We think, overall, that the picture for Alzheimer’s is improving.

Here at Harvard Chan School, we are working on linking nine different research cohorts in the world that have focused on Alzheimer’s. This will provide us with valuable information over time for about 80,000 people, including roughly 15,000 with Alzheimer’s.

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