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Published on: November 6, 2012
by Stephen Adams for The Telegraph:
The proportion of people dying of dementia has more than doubled in a decade, official figures show, and by 2021 one in eight of all deaths could be due to the brain disease.
Every tenth woman in England and Wales now dies of dementia (10.3 per cent), according to mortality figures for 2011 from the Office for National Statistics, up from 4.3 per cent in 2001. In men, the proportion of deaths from dementia has risen from 2.0 to 5.2 per cent over the course of the decade.
Should these rises be sustained, it will mean that by 2021 about 12 per cent of all deaths will be attributed to dementia.
Experts said the figures were a “scary” reminder of the scale of the dementia timebomb facing Britain. At the moment some 800,000 people in Britain are living with dementia, including about 500,000 from the most common type, Alzheimer’s. Less than half (43 per cent) have received a formal diagnosis. One million are expected to have dementia by 2021.
Professor Clive Ballard, head of research at The Alzheimer’s Society, said the increase in deaths attributed to dementia was due both Britain’s ageing population and to a greater understanding that the disease did actually kill people.
He said: “Dementia is getting more common, because people are living longer.
“There’s an exponential increase in dementia with age. One in 20 people at 65 have it, but that increases to one in five at 80, one in three at 90 and one in two at 95.
“So once you get more and more people living beyond 80, you will get more people dying from dementia.”
He also said doctors were now far more likely to record dementia as the underlying cause of death, due to a better understanding of it. He explained: “In very severe Alzheimer’s, people get bed-bound, can’t clear their chests properly and become very vulnerable to infections like pneumonia.
“Whereas 10 years ago a doctors might have put ‘pneumonia’ as the cause of death on the death certificate of someone with dementia, now they are more likely to put ‘pneumonia and dementia’.”
People with Alzheimer’s were also “much more prone” to strokes because the amyloid proteins associated with the disease in the brain also tended to block blood vessels. Just as doctors had realised for years that people with end-stage cancer were really killed by the disease, rather than the final trigger such as an infection or a heart attack, so they were now accepting a similar thing happened in those with dementia.
Given that one in three 65-year-olds will develop dementia during the rest of their lives, Prof Ballard thought predictions that one in eight could be dying of the disease by 2021 might prove on the low side.
“If we assume that half of those with dementia will die of it, that suggests a sixth of all deaths could be due to the disease,” he said.
“The proportion of the increase is quite scary, and that’s why we need to have a plan now, rather than burying our heads in the sand.
“We are moving in the right direction but we have to have more support for research and for managing people with it.”
He warned that 85 per cent of people in care homes were now thought to have dementia, up from 20 per cent in 1980, and given the upward trend almost everybody in a care home would soon have it. “What we are going to see soon is that care homes are going to be completely full of people with dementia,” he said.
“That will probably happen in the next decade. When that happens the current system is going to break.
“Then we will either have to start managing people with more severe dementia in their own homes or there will have to be more care home provision.”
For years dementia has been a ‘Cinderella’ condition but that now seems to be changing. In March, David Cameron declared that tackling the “national crisis” posed by the disease was one of his personal priorities, and said it was a “scandal” that the country had not done more to address it.
He announced that research funding would more than double by 2015, compared to 2010, but has been criticised for failing to address the immediate problems faced by those already with it.
Earlier this week he said the Government was backing a UK-developed 15-minute test for dementia, to help drive up diagnosis rates.
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