Alzheimer’s Rarely Reported As Cause Of Death
A provocative new study has suggested that Alzheimer’s disease causes six times as many deaths as the official statistics would indicate. That makes an already alarming epidemic even more frightening.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that, in 2010, Alzheimer’s caused almost 84,000 deaths in the United States, a number derived from death certificates in which Alzheimer’s was listed as the main cause. But, in reality, the new study said Alzheimer’s was the underlying cause in more than 500,000 deaths in 2010 that were often attributed to conditions, such as pneumonia, caused by complications of Alzheimer’s. Those numbers would catapult Alzheimer’s from the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States to the third, behind heart disease and cancer.
The study was led by researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and recently published in the medical journal Neurology. The researchers analyzed data from more than 2,500 people ages 65 and older who had no dementia at the start and who agreed to annual clinical evaluations and cognitive tests. All agreed to donate their brains for autopsies after they died.
Over an average of eight years of follow-up, 22 percent developed Alzheimer’s disease, 1 percent developed other forms of dementia and 42 percent died. The death rate was much higher among those who had developed Alzheimer’s than among those who had not. Extrapolating their findings to the entire population, the researchers came up with what they call a “crude” estimate that more than 500,000 deaths of Americans ages 75 and older in 2010 could be attributed to Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts at Centers for Disease Control noted that the study was small and the participants were healthier than average, which meant they were less likely to die from other diseases, before succumbing to Alzheimer’s. But even the experts agreed that the annual mortality from Alzheimer’s is probably higher than 84,000. In 2010, 309,000 death certificates listed Alzheimer’s or other dementias (many of which could have been Alzheimer’s) as one of the causes.
Alzheimer’s is already a burden on caregivers and health care budgets. As more people live to advanced ages, it will become more of a burden. The rising toll makes it imperative to intensify research into ways to treat and prevent the disease.