Report Reinforces that Alzheimer's Can Be Cause of Death

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • In talking to people about Alzheimer’s, the question sometimes comes up as to whether people actually die for this disease. The answer, I tell them, is a resounding YES!


    Now I have new data to back up this statement. And I can use my mom’s case as a way of explaining it much better. Let’s see how my extra-long elevator speech sounds….


    The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2013 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures points out that Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in our country as well as the fifth-leading cause of death in people who are 65 and older.


    While that seems bad enough, those numbers may in actuality be worse. That’s because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics only considers Alzheimer’s as the cause of death if the condition is listed on the death certificate. However, other conditions often are listed as the primary cause of death. I’d have to go back and look at Mom’s death certificate, but there’s a strong possibility it lists chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as the primary cause of death. Mom hadn’t reached the end stage of Alzheimer’s when she died, although it appeared to me that her dementia and her COPD were working together to cause her health to quickly slip away.

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    The Alzheimer’s Association report notes that severe dementia causes complications such as immobility, swallowing disorders and malnutrition that adds to the risk of other serious conditions that can lead to death. Mom was already having trouble swallowing, which caused her to be referred for a modified barium swallow test about six months before she died. The results of that test indicated that she could no longer eat solid food, instead moving to a specifial diet of purified foods. She also had become increasingly immobile, having to always use a wheelchair. Again, it’s hard to tell how much her poor lung quality and need for oxygen 24-hours a day played into that, but her coordination and balance were off, making her a fall risk if she got up by herself.


    And one of the conditions that the report points to is pneumonia, which researchers have found to be the most commonly cited cause of death among elders who have some type of dementia. That, again, hits close to home since immediately prior to her death, Mom had been hospitalized because she had a respiratory infection that her health care providers were concerned might become pneumonia. She spent about five days in the hospital before being discharged back to the nursing home. Mom seemed to continue to recover for about three days before suddenly slipping into a stupor that continued to worsen until her death four days later.


    So it seems like Mom fits this report’s statements, since the Alzheimer’s Association states, “The number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias who die while experiencing these conditions may not be counted among the number of people who died from Alzheimer’s disease according to the CDC definition, even though Alzheimer’s disease is a contributing cause of death for more Americans than is indicated by CDC data.”


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    The report points out that an estimated 400,000 people who died in 2010 did so after developing Alzheimer’s disease. It also notes that according to Medicare, 33 percent of all seniors who die during a given year had previously been diagnosed with some kind of dementia. “Although some seniors who die with Alzheimer’s disease die from causes that were unrelated to Alzheimer’s, many of them die from Alzheimer’s disease itself or from conditions in which Alzheimer’s was a contributing cause, such as pneumonia,” the report states.


    This year’s estimate is that 450,000 people who live in the United States will die with Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the report points out that among people who are currently 70 years old, 51 percent of those who have Alzheimer’s are anticipated to die before reaching the age of 80 as compared to 30 percent of those who do not have Alzheimer’s disease.


    That’s the reason this disease is to be feared and it’s so important that all stakeholders take the time to understand all of the repercussions that come with it. It’s time to devote the necessary resources – manpower, money and energy – to finding a cure.


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    Alzheimer’s Association. (2013). 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.

Published On: March 27, 2013