When Will the Alzheimer's Disease Death Rate Stop Climbing?
Top ten lists are "hot" these days. This week, one of great interest to all of us hit the headlines. It was bad news in the news. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its annual list of the leading causes of death in the United States. For years, we've watched Alzheimer's disease climb the ladder, but this year it took a significant step: it moved into position as the sixth leading cause of death; while up just one rung from the prior year, what is especially noteworthy is that Alzheimer's deaths increased while all other 14 of the top 15 leading cause of death decreased.
The U.S. statistics unveiled that Alzheimer's disease resulted in the deaths of 72,914 Americans in 2006. Let me repeat that: 72,914 deaths. The rate knocked diabetes out of sixth position. Deaths from influenza and pneumonia dropped the sharpest from the previous year.
At the same time, the agency noted that life expectancy for Americans is at an all-time high: 78.1 years. Age, as you know, is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.
It's the kind of ranking that rattles the ground at an organization like mine. It isn't the kind of top ten list where higher means better. Obviously, we hear all the time of people dying from Alzheimer's disease -- clients at our member organization's adult day centers or long-term care facilities, callers seeking grief counseling from our social workers, or memorial gifts that filter in from folks admirably paying tribute to loved ones by contributing to the cause. Despite this, to see the death rate in black and white statistics... to have confirmation that Alzheimer's disease is stealing more and more lives is terribly disheartening.
How many more people do we have to lose to this horrific disease? How many more families have to watch their loved ones slip away? How many more caregivers have to toil each day, harming their physical and mental health?
At the same time that these statistics made news this week, there were also media reports relaying optimism about emerging drug treatments. Several drugs are in the pipeline that could modify the course of Alzheimer's disease. Given the death rates and aging baby boomers, these can't come soon enough.