En español | The rate of dementia deaths in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past two decades, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 66.7 per 100,000 in 2017.
“The primary cause is most likely the aging of the population,” says lead author Ellen Kramarow, a statistician for the NCHS, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As people live longer and don’t die of other causes, they tend to live to the ages where their risk of dementia is the highest.”
The report, which analyzed death certificate data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, found that more than two-thirds of dementia deaths in 2017 occurred among those 85 and older. People ages 65-74 accounted for just 6.4 percent of dementia deaths overall.
About half (46 percent) of the 261,914 dementia deaths in the U.S. in 2017 were due to Alzheimer’s disease, which the report notes is the fifth leading cause of death for adults age 65 and older, and the sixth leading cause of death for people of all ages.
But, says Kramarow, “if you only look at Alzheimer’s disease, you may not get the full picture.” That’s why the researchers also counted deaths due to vascular dementia, unspecified dementia and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system.
Overall, dementia death rates are higher among women than men, and among non-Hispanic whites than people of other races, even though the prevalence of the disease is higher among African Americans and Hispanics than older white adults.
“It’s possible that [these minority groups] are more likely to die of other causes before they die of dementia,” Kramarow says. “There also might be differences in the reporting of deaths among different groups."
According to the report, nearly 14 million people in the U.S. are projected to have Alzheimer's disease and related dementias by 2060. Understanding dementia mortality, the authors write, "is an important component of addressing this public health challenge."