Alzheimer’s disease is always thought of as a mental health condition that patients die with, but not usually something they die of. But a new study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reveals that the number of people who die from Alzheimer’s may be higher than previously thought.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists Alzheimer’s as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. However, according to the study’s findings, Alzheimer’s disease should actually be the third leading cause of death, right behind heart disease and cancer. The current number of people who die because of Alzheimer’s disease is currently just over 83,000, but the researchers behind the study believe that number may in fact be closer to half a million.
Alzheimer’s starts out by affecting memory and cognitive function, but the disease can also affect the parts of the brain that control basic motor functions, such as swallowing and breathing. Death certificates often list respiratory ailments, like pneumonia, as the cause of death. There is room at the top of certificates to note an underlying cause of death, but oftentimes Alzheimer’s disease can remain undiagnosed and is therefore excluded.
This particular study followed 2,566 patients over the age of 65 who were tested annually for dementia. Of those participants, 559 of them developed Alzheimer’s disease and there was approximately four years between their date of diagnosis and date of death. Individuals in the 75 to 84 age range who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were four times more likely to die than those who did not have it. In many of these cases, the patient’s death was in some way related to having developed Alzheimer’s. It may not have been the immediate cause of death, but it can often be traced back to the disease.
If the numbers in the study are accurate, it means that the actual number of deaths from Alzheimer’s are, in reality, six times higher than what the CDC reported based on information from death certificates.
So, what does this mean for you? The fact of the matter is that Alzheimer’s cases are going up in the U.S. and although a cure has not yet been discovered, catching the disease early can significantly slow its progression. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, don’t hesitate to address your concerns with a health professional. Don’t be worried about being paranoid or overreacting. So many cases go undetected, and this is what contributes to the skewed number of Alzheimer’s-related deaths.
According to current statistics, one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, and that number is expected to rise. Research is continuing on a global scale in hopes of discovering better means of treating, preventing, and delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures,” Alzheimer’s Association web site; http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp, last accessed March 18, 2014.
“Alzheimer’s may kill as many as cancer,” MSN Health Hub web site, March 6, 2014; http://health.msn.co.nz/healthnews/8809999/alzheimers-may-kill-as-many-as-cancer.
Cortez, M.F., “Alzheimer’s Is Estimated to Be the No. 3 Killer Disease in U.S.,” Bloomberg web site, March 6, 2014; http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-03-05/alzheimer-s-disease-estimated-to-be-no-dot-3-killer-disease-in-u-dot-s.
McMillen, M., “Alzheimer’s Kills Many More Than Expected,” WebMD web site, March 5, 2014, http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20140305/study-alzheimers-more-deaths.