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Stroke rates slipping among U.S. seniors and here's why

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Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States but findings of a new study show that the incidence of stroke among seniors in the U.S. is dropping.

For the new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 16, researchers used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study which involved 15,792 participants between 45 to 64 years old at the start of the study to examine the incidence stroke and stroke-related deaths in the U.S.

The researchers found that during the duration of the study between 1987 and 2011, the incidence of stroke has declined in adults who were at least 65 years old. The researchers also observed that the declining incidence of stroke is happening in both whites and blacks.

"In a multicenter cohort of black and white adults in U.S. communities, stroke incidence and mortality rates decreased from 1987 to 2011," study researcher Josef Coresh, from the Department of Neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., and colleagues wrote.

Coresh said that the declining incidence of stroke in older adults is likely due to improved treatment of factors that could elevate risks for stroke. The use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, for instance, has increased from under 4 percent to nearly 13 percent and this resulted in a reduction in bad cholesterol levels. Use of medications for blood pressure, primarily in people who were 65 year old and older, also increased from only about 29 percent to 43 percent during the study period.

The number of current smokers also dropped during the course of the study, which has likely also contributed to the decline in stroke incidence. Smoking is considered as one of the risk factors of stroke and smokers are twice as likely as their nonsmoker counterparts to have a stroke.

"The decline in stroke in our study is at least partially explained by better control of stroke risk factors, as well as improved strategies for management of stroke over time," said study researcher Silvia Koton, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

The researchers, however, noticed that stroke rates have not declined among those younger than 65 years old albeit they have noted that the reduced stroke deaths were largely observed in this age group.

 "The decreases varied across age groups, but were similar across sex and race, showing that improvements in stroke incidence and outcome continued to 2011," the researchers concluded.

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