Death rates from Alzheimer’s on the rise — new reports

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New reports from the U.S. and Scotland show that death rates from Alzheimer’s disease are on the increase. Image: Dmitry Berkut/Istock.com via AFP Relaxnews

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by more than 50 percent in the past 15 years in the United States.

The figures now make Alzheimer’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., with estimations suggesting that one in every 10 Americans aged 65 and older has the condition.

Alzheimer’s also accounts for the majority of cases of dementia, and in addition to causing cognitive impairment and behavioral decline, can also cause conditions such as pneumonia and blood clots.

Although the causes of Alzheimer’s are still unclear, one of the reasons for the increase is that Americans are living longer. Age is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease, with Dr. Paul Eslinger, a clinical neuropsychologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, adding that “those in their 80s are at the highest risk because that is the fastest-growing decade of Americans.”

Women are also more likely to develop the condition, accounting for two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases, again in part because they typically live longer than men.

However, health professionals are also diagnosing the disease sooner, by identifying Alzheimer’s risk factors and symptoms earlier on.

Guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s were also updated in 2012 to include the use of biomarkers or genes to assess a person’s risk for the disease, as well as reports from their family, an assessment from their doctor, and a neurological and cognitive exam.

Although there is no cure, some treatments can slow progression of the disease, and as starting these treatments early is thought to be more effective in helping to manage the disease, it is important that a diagnosis is also made as early as possible.

Early detection also gives those with the condition the chance to participate in any treatment trials, which usually take place during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and to make any appropriate lifestyle changes sooner rather than later.

New statistics released on Thursday also showed that in Scotland, deaths from Alzheimer’s are also on the rise, with provisional quarterly figures from the National Records of Scotland showing that in the first quarter of 2017, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease are up 30.9 percent from the same period one year ago, and deaths from dementia up by 17.9 percent.

Although some of the increase can be attributed to a change in the way death records are coded for Scotland’s official statistics, with dementia now recognized as the cause of death in many cases that would previously have been attributed to other causes such as chest infections or pneumonia, this only accounts for a 7.5 percent increase in deaths from dementia—not enough to explain the 22 percent rise seen overall.

A separate report on Forbes also details how a new study into the biomarkers that predict Alzheimer’s suggests that in the U.S. more than twice as many people are in some stage of the disease than official numbers may indicate.

Although around 5.4 million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer’s, the new research suggests that the number is more likely to be closer to 11 million when taking into account those who do not yet display symptoms of the condition. JB

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