Dementia has become the leading killer of females and claims almost 32000 lives annually.
Official figures indicate that dementia and Alzheimer’s cause three times as many deaths as breast cancer. It is the third biggest killer of males.
There has been an increase in the proportion of deaths caused by dementia, from 11.5% during 2012 to 12.2% during 2013.
Experts believe that the increasing numbers could be a result of more awareness of the disease and the willingness of doctors to record it on death certificates. The drive by the Government to improve diagnosis rates and confront the stigma related to the disease may also have resulted in more accurate figures.
Cancer remains the top killer of both males and females, when all types of the disease are combined. It accounts for 30% of all deaths, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). According to the ONS, there were 506790 registered deaths in England and Wales during 2013. This is an increase of 1.5%, compared to 2012. Of this number, 245585 were males and 261205 were females.
A shift has been seen in the causes of death since 2003. Heart attacks declined from 22% to 16% in males, and from 15% to 10% in females.
Over the same time period, dementia deaths trebled in males, and increased from 2% to 6%. Dementia deaths in females more than doubled, from 5% to 12%.
For the first time since 2012, dementia surpassed heart disease as the main cause of death in women.
The policy manager at Alzheimer’s Society, Gavin Terry, said 225000 people develop dementia each year and the number are set to increase. He said that dementia is one of the biggest social and health care challenges Britain faces. He added that dementia has been incorrectly viewed by clinicians as a natural aging process, which resulted in them not recording it as a cause of death.
The director of external affairs at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Hilary Evans, said age is the main risk factor for dementia, and since women are outliving men, this would be reflected in the cause of death. She said that due to improved research in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, the figures have declined. However, attention should now be given to dementia and research should be undertaken to provide improved prevention and treatment.
Image Credit: Horia Varlan