Caring Currents

You're Not Imagining It: More People Have Alzheimer's

Last updated: Jun 13, 2008

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When you're expecting a baby, you suddenly notice pregnant women everywhere. If you're caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease, it can seem like another case of being suddenly more attuned to the condition. Except it's not just perception. The number of people with the disease is growing -- now up to 5.2 million Americans. And so are Alzheimer's deaths.

Here are the leading causes of death as of 2006, the latest count, just released from the National Center for Health Statistics:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Stroke
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  5. Accidents

Number 6 used to be diabetes. But deaths from diabetes, stroke, pneumonia, influenza -- even cancer and suicide -- all showed declines from 2005 to 2006.

In another NHS headline: Life expectancy is up to a record 78.1 years (81 years if you're a white woman). Good news -- except seen in the light that advancing age is the leading risk factor for Alzheimer's. (All roads lead to Alzheimer's lately, it would seem.)

Of course as a reader recently mentioned, you don't technically die of Alzheimer's, normally, but of a condition stemming from the disease's effects (not eating, vulnerability to infection because of depression, wandering off and drowning, and so on.). Given this, and the number of cases that are undiagnosed, do you think the true number of Alzheimer's deaths is even larger?

What's certain for the near future is that it will be.

Image by Flickr user Mykl Roventine, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.