Dementia tops female causes of death








By James Gallagher
Health editor, BBC News website


Generic image of elderly womanIt is the second consecutive year that dementia has been recorded as the leading cause of death for women


Dementia is the leading cause of death for women in England and Wales, official figures show.

The disease now kills more than three times as many women as breast cancer and thousands more than either heart attacks or stroke.

Analysts say the rising numbers may be because doctors are becoming more aware of the disease and recording it on death certificates more frequently.

Coronary heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men.

For males, dementia is the third most common cause of death.


Shorter lives

The gradual wasting away of the brain in dementia cuts lives short.

The condition can be recorded as the sole cause of death, but is frequently found as an underlying condition. Many people with dementia ultimately die from pneumonia.

The data, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed more than half a million people died in England and Wales in 2013.





















Women


Men

Cause of death

Number of deaths

Rank

Causes of death

Number of deaths

Dementia and Alzheimer’s


31,850


1


Coronary heart disease


37,797


Coronary heart disease


26,075


2


Lung cancer


16,818


Stroke


20,706


3


Dementia and Alzheimer’s


15,262


Flu and pneumonia


15,361


4


Chronic lower respiratory diseases


15,021


Chronic lower respiratory diseases


14,927


5


Stroke


14,058


Lung cancer


13,619


6


Flu and pneumonia


11,426


Breast cancer


10,144


7


Prostate cancer


9,726


Colon cancer


6,569


8


Colon cancer


7,669


Urinary infections


5,457


9


Lymphatic cancers


6,311


Heart failure


5,012


10


Liver disease


4,661



Total: 261,205




Total: 245,585


Cancer is the leading killer when all subtypes of cancer are combined across both genders. Nearly one in three deaths last year was from some form of cancer.

The latest data confirms a dramatic shift in the causes of death in the past decade.

Between 2003 and 2013 the percentage of deaths from coronary heart disease, which includes heart attacks, fell to 16% of male deaths from 22%. In women the figure fell to 10% from 15%.

Improved care means people are more likely to survive heart attacks and more people take statins to prevent them in the first place.


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What is dementia?


Elderly couple with dementia (posed by models)Dementia now accounts for 12% of female deaths

  • It is an umbrella term that describes about 100 diseases in which brain cells die on a huge scale.
  • All damage memory, language, mental agility, understanding and judgement.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, affecting 62% of those living with dementia.
  • It gets worse with time and eventually people are left completely dependent on carers.
  • It is incurable.

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Meanwhile, dementia rose to 6% of male deaths from 2% and to 12% of female deaths from 5%.

The latest data is the second consecutive year that dementia has been recorded as the leading cause of death for women.

The ONS report said: “Some of the rise over the last few decades may also be attributable to a better understanding of dementia.

“This means that doctors may be more likely to record dementia as the underlying cause of death.”

Hilary Evans, the director of external affairs at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The figures highlight dementia as a huge problem that we cannot shy away from any longer.

“Encouragingly, the statistics reveal that other health conditions, such as heart disease, are beginning to be tamed and this has come about due to improved research into treatment, prevention and better public health.

“We must now turn our attentions to dementia – our greatest health challenge – and invest in research that will drive better prevention and treatment of the condition.”

Gavin Terry, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is one of the biggest health and social care challenges the UK faces.

“For too long dementia has been wrongly seen by many clinicians as a natural part of ageing and, as such, have failed to record it as a cause of death.”

Prof Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said coronary heart disease “continues to blight the lives of thousands of people and families”.

“We’ve made great progress over the last 50 years but we still need to fund much more research to stop people dying needlessly, and to help the increasing number of people living with heart disease.”

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