THURSDAY, March 14, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Dementia is now one of the leading killers in the United States, with the rate of deaths linked to the disease more than doubling over the past two decades.
“Overall, age-adjusted death rates for dementia increased from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 66.7 in 2017,” say a team of researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In sheer numbers, the new analysis of death certificate data shows that dementia was noted as the primary cause for nearly 262,000 deaths in 2017, with 46 percent of those deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s up from about 84,000 deaths attributed to dementia in 2000.
“It’s a huge increase from 2000 to 2017,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s a big problem, and it’s getting bigger.”
America’s aging population is probably fueling this increase in dementia-related deaths, said lead researcher Ellen Kramarow, a CDC health statistician.
“Part of what is likely happening is people are living to older ages, and those are the ages where your risk of dementia is the highest,” Kramarow said. “If you haven’t died of heart disease or cancer or something else and you get to the very oldest ages, your risk for getting dementia is higher.”
Not only are people living longer, but older people now make up a larger percentage of the overall population, said Fargo, who wasn’t involved with the study.
Some portion of the observed increase could also be attributed to better records being kept of dementia-related deaths, Fargo added.
“Doctors are getting better at identifying dementia and putting it on the death certificate,” he said.
Even then, this report probably understates the number of people actually dying from dementia, Fargo said.
“We know death certificates underrepresent the true death rate from Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” he said.
To that point, the new report also noted another 129,700 deaths in 2017 where dementia was listed on the death certificate as a contributing factor but not the main cause of death, Kramarow pointed out.