The National Center for Health Statistics reported that over the past decade, the amount of deaths linked to dementia has more than doubled, making it one of the top killers in the United States. The CDC defines dementia as “a general term for conditions that cause loss of memory severe enough that they may impact a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.” The disease was found as the primary cause of 262,000 deaths in 2017, which is up from 84,000 in 2000. Of the 262,000 people who died of dementia-related causes, 46% of the deaths were due to Alzheimer's disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. Last year, the CDC reported that Alzheimer's disease and related dementias will double by 2060.
"It's a huge increase from 2000 to 2017. It's a big problem, and it's getting bigger," said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association. “Overall, age-adjusted death rates for dementia increased from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 66.7 in 2017,” researchers wrote in the new issue of National Vital Statistics Reports.
Lead researcher Ellen Kramarow, a CDC health statistician, said that America's aging population is probably responsible for the increase in dementia-related deaths. "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. 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," Kramarow said.
Keith Fargo also noted that the increase could be attributed to better records being kept. "Doctors are getting better at identifying dementia and putting it on the death certificate," said Fargo. He added that this report probably understates the number of people dying from dementia. "We know death certificates underrepresent the true death rate from Alzheimer's and other dementias."
The CDC predicts that Hispanic-Americans will experience the largest increase in the coming years. This is mostly due to population growth. Non-Hispanic whites, however, are projected to still have the largest amount of total cases of Alzheimer's. “Early diagnosis is key to helping people and their families cope with loss of memory, navigate the health care system, and plan for their care in the future,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said. The CDC added that because we don't fully understand the true causes of the disease yet and because the disease continues to grow, there's a strong need for continued research.
Emory University School of Medicine assistant professor Chad Hales said that “diagnosing dementia begins with a good clinical history and exam, brain imaging and lab studies to ensure no other conditions are causing the symptoms. The current gold standard is postmortem diagnosis with neuropathological confirmation." We need to start finding better ways to identify and treat dementia before it leads to death.