Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease skyrocketed in recent years, rising 55 percent in just 15 years. In 2014, there were 93,541 deaths from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States as compared with 44,536 in 1999, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts said the climbing rate was likely due to better diagnosis of the disease, an aging population and an increased willingness among doctors to ascribe death to Alzheimer’s. The CDC also noted that declines in other causes of death, like heart disease and cancer, were enabling people to live long enough to die of Alzheimer's.
There is currently no cure for the disease, but certain medicines can slow its progression.
Some experts noted that the numbers might be misleading due to better diagnosis.
“People are more aware,” Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told USA Today. “We are able to make a diagnosis much earlier.”
Still, Alzheimer's was the sixth leading cause of death in the nation, according to the data. The researchers said most of the deaths occurred in a nursing home or long-term care facility and highlighted the burden of Alzheimer’s disease on caregivers.
“Millions of Americans and their family members are profoundly affected by Alzheimer’s disease,” said CDC acting director Anne Schuchat, according to NBC News. “As the number of older Americans with Alzheimer’s disease rises, more family members are taking on the emotionally and physically challenging role of caregiver than ever before. These families need and deserve our support.”
Those who care for Alzheimer’s patients bear a hefty burden, according to data on the subject. Nearly half of caretakers cut back on their own expenses like food and medical care to take care of others. Caregivers are also 28 percent more likely than other adults to go hungry or eat less because they can’t afford to pay for food, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Caretakers lose over $15,000 on average in annual income and provided 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care in 2015 at an economic cost of $221.3 billion.
“As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, caregiving becomes very important,” Christopher Taylor, a CDC epidemiologist who led the study team, told NBC. “Caregivers and patients can benefit from programs that include education about Alzheimer’s disease, how to take care of themselves and their loved one and case management to lessen the burden of care. Supportive interventions can lessen the burden for caregivers and improve the quality of care for people with Alzheimer's.”
The problem, already devastating, will likely only be exacerbated by an aging population, experts said.
“The numbers dying from Alzheimer’s are just going to get worse,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs for the Alzheimer’s Association, according to ABC News.