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Rising Alzheimer's death rate may be caused by increased awareness, experts say

Since 1999, the rate of death attributed to the disease increased by more than 50 percent.

By Amy Wallace

June 1 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a recent report that the number of deaths credited to Alzheimer's disease has increased by more than half.

Experts say the report, which is based on data from death certificates, suggests diagnosis of the disease has improved -- as has treatment of other leading causes of death in the United States.

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"People are becoming more aware of Alzheimer's disease and go to physicians to seek out a diagnosis [if they have symptoms]," Christopher A. Taylor, an epidemiologist at the CDC, told UPI. "So they are more likely to have the diagnosis of Alzheimer's on their death certificate at the time of their death. There has also been an increase in the number of physicians using it as cause of death on death certificates."

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and accounted for 3.6 percent of all deaths in 2014. The greatest risk factor for the disease, Taylor said, is advanced age.

"We knew the numbers of Alzheimer's deaths would increase as the aging population increases, but rates of Alzheimer's are increasing as well," Taylor said. "We don't have a reason why the rate is increasing. It is not as a result of increasing aging population."

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Researchers at the CDC analyzed mortality data collected from U.S. resident death certificates filed between 1999 and 2014.

The data showed age-adjusted Alzheimer's death rates per 100,000 people increased from 16.5 percent in 1999 to 25.4 percent in 2014, an increase of 54.5 percent. From 1999 to 2014, age-specific rates of deaths attributed to Alzheimer's increased in adults age 75 to 84 from 129.5 to 185.6 per 100,000, and in adults age 85 and older from 601.3 to 1,006.8.

The CDC's report also showed more deaths from Alzheimer's are occurring at home compared to at medical and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

"There could be several reasons for this including geographic, personal and financial factors," Taylor said. "People may not live close to care facilities, may not be able to afford the cost of nursing home care or just prefer to be at home."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the increase in the rate of deaths attributed to the disease may be due to improved treatment of other leading mortality causes.

"We're getting very good at treating other causes of death," Keith N. Fargo, director of Scientific Programs and Outreach at the Alzheimer's Association, told UPI. "All of the other top 10 causes of death are treatable like heart disease."

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Alzheimer's is a progressive, deadly neurodegenerative disease of which there is currently no treatment or cure.

"Physicians are also getting better at identifying Alzheimer's and identifying it on a death certificate," Fargo said. "There is also more awareness that Alzheimer's is a cause of death. There's also been a shift in the stigma surrounding Alzheimer's. There has been an increased willingness among doctors to speak openly about Alzheimer's."

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