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Alzheimer’s should be the No.3 Killer in the U.S., Study Reports

Update Date: Mar 06, 2014 11:09 AM EST

In a new study, researchers suggested that Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia, causes more deaths in seniors than people expect due to the fact that it is often underreported. According to these researchers, Alzheimer's should be ranked number three on the list of the leading causes of death right after heart disease and cancer.

The researchers from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, IL monitored 2,566 seniors aged 65 and above. The participants were followed for an average of eight years. For every year, they were tested for Alzheimer's-type dementia. The researchers focused on the mortality risk of people who were or were not clinically diagnosed with the mental illness. Over the span of the study, the researchers found that almost 25 percent of the patients had developed Alzheimer's. The team found that disease could be linked to causing the death of nearly 400 people.

When the researchers extrapolated their data, they reported that Alzheimer's could be tied to 503,400 deaths in seniors 75 and older. With this estimation, Alzheimer's would be the third leading cause of death in the U.S. During their analysis, the researchers noted that using death certificates might not be a reliable source in calculating how often Alzheimer's kills its patients. The researchers stated that doctors might not list the mental illness as the immediate cause of death even though the condition could have greatly contributed to one's decline in health.

"Death certificates are well known to underreport deaths from Alzheimer's and other types of dementia," said Bryan James, the lead author of the study and epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. "The more immediate causes of death, such as pneumonia or heart attack, are usually listed, and the underlying causes of death are usually left off."

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Alzheimer's is the number sixth leaving cause of death. The CDC estimates that in 2010, around 84,000 deaths could be attributed to the disease. The CDC uses death certificates when making their calculations. In 2010, heart disease was tied to nearly 600,000 deaths and cancer was responsible for around 575,000 deaths.

Based on their findings, the researchers believe that more attention needs to be placed on Alzheimer's research. Since the illness is underreported as a cause of death, federal funding for the mental disease is relatively low. The researchers stressed the importance of increasing this funding so that more deaths could be prevented in the future.

"It's just another reminder that Alzheimer's is really an important public health problem, and we need to work on it," Dallas Anderson with the National Institute on Aging said according to CNN.

The report was published in the American Academy of Neurology's journal, Neurology.

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