New research reveals dementia is much deadlier than they thought

Dementia, the umbrella term that describes various thinking and social symptoms related to cognitive decline, is fairly common in the US.

There is no cure for the condition, and deaths linked to it more than doubled last year.

According to a new report published in the journal JAMA Neurology, the lethality of dementia and cognitive impairment without dementiais much more aggressive than initially believed.

In fact, the authors state that the conditions are roughly three times more deadly than official records imply.

These records place the death rate at around 5.0%, while the updated analysis suggests that more than 13% of deaths in the US occur due to underlying causes associated with dementia.

“Vital statistics are the primary source of data used to understand the mortality burden of dementia in the US, despite evidence that dementia is underreported on death certificates. Alternative estimates, drawing on population-based samples, are needed,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “The findings of this study suggest that the mortality burden associated with dementia is underestimated using vital statistics, especially when considering CIND in addition to dementia.”

The research team located at The Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) derived their research from a nationally-representative cohort comprised of 7,342 older adults.

Not only did the study pool underscore the underrepresentation of dementia-related deaths, but it also revealed which communities are disproportionately affected.

Elderly African-Americans were determined to be 7.1 times more likely to die of underlying causes associated with dementia compared to the rest of the cohorts, elderly Hispanics were determined to be 4.1 times more likely to die because of the same, and the number was closer to 2.3 times among older white adults.

Men and individuals without high school education evidenced higher death risk increases.

“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) affect millions of individuals in the US and represent a major source of disease burden and health care costs in the US. An estimated 5.6 million adults in the US 65 years or older lived with ADRD in 2019. There are several types of dementia, including Alzheimer disease (AD), which accounts for 80% of the cases, vascular dementia, which accounts for an estimated 10% of the cases, and mixed cause, in which patients show signs of both AD and vascular dementia (approximately 50% of AD cases),” the authors continued. “In addition to ADRD, an estimated 18.8% of individuals in the US 65 years or older live with cognitive impairment without dementia (CIND), about a third of whom may develop ADRD within 5 years.”

The study was not without its limitations.

For a start, individuals with dementia often die of a combination of causes. This makes locating causal relationships particularly challenging. It’s safe to assume that any recorded deaths among people with dementia are attributed to the condition even if they’re not directly related.

Similarly, mortality risks associated with CIND are lower than those for dementia, but CIND is more common.

In any case, the new analysis justifies further research into preemptive therapeutics for one of the most destructive mental conditions.

“In this nationally representative study of older US adults linked to mortality records, we found that approximately 13.6% of deaths were attributable to dementia over the period 2000-2009. This estimate was 2.7 times larger than vital statistics data on underlying cause of death. When considering deaths attributable to CIND as well, the disparity between the PAF and the underlying cause of death estimate increased to a factor of 4.8,” the authors concluded.