The number of current smokers also declined during the course of the study, the researchers noted.
The findings are published in the July 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Stroke ranks fourth among all causes of death in the United States, with about 800,000 Americans experiencing a stroke each year, according to background information that accompanied the study.
To study stroke rates in America, the researchers used results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, which involved almost 16,000 residents of four U.S. communities who were between the ages of 45 and 64 when the study began in the late 1980s. The communities are Minneapolis, Washington County, Md., Forsyth County, N.C., and Jackson, Miss.
In this analysis, the researchers followed 14,357 participants who were free of stroke in 1987, looking specifically for all stroke hospitalizations and deaths between then and the end of 2011.
The study found a 24 percent overall decline in first-time strokes in each of the last two decades, and a 20 percent overall decrease per decade in deaths due to stroke.
The decline in overall stroke rates was driven largely by people 65 and older, while the decrease in stroke deaths occurred largely in people younger than 65, the researchers reported.
"Since rates are not equally falling across the board, physicians and policymakers need to pay closer attention to specific subgroups," study author Silvia Koton, a visiting faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and incoming nursing department chair at Tel Aviv University, said in a news release from Hopkins.
"These data are also helpful in monitoring the results of how we care for people of all ages, h
All rights reserved