US Mortality Rises Especially in Alzheimer’s

That is the headline you did not see in the news when the Centers for Disease Control released Mortality in the United States, 2015 on December 8.  This has been the first increase in mortality since 1999 and drop in US life expectancy since 1993. The rise in Alzheimer’s deaths is staggering, far outpacing any other condition, with little response from the Alzheimer’s community, the medical system, and the healthcare media.

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According to the report, “The rate increased 0.9% for heart disease, 2.7% for chronic lower respiratory diseases, 6.7% for unintentional injuries, 3.0% for stroke, 15.7% for Alzheimer’s disease, 1.9% for diabetes, 1.5% for kidney disease, and 2.3% for suicide. The rate decreased by 1.7% for cancer.”  The CDC chose not to give a graphic representation of this information.

Perhaps you have heard about the opioid drug crisis; those of us who prescribe these medications have heard much about it and have been given many more tools for monitoring patients.  This is what has caused much of the 6.7% rise in “unintentional injuries.”  Yet the 15.7% rise in death from Alzheimer’s disease is far greater than the rise in unintentional injuries.  Where are the front-page stories?

News outlets published the data in their heath sections. The New York Times mentions the statistics and focuses on the fact that the overall data is alarming and inexplicable.  The LA Times simply reports the data. The Washington Post has much more discussion regarding various aspects of the numbers.  It even highlights the large jump in Alzheimer’s deaths, but gives unsupported speculations as to why this isn’t a problem: The largest rate jump for any cause of death was for Alzheimer’s disease, which went from 25.4 to 29.4 deaths per 100,000 people. But several experts attributed that to greater reporting of the disease as a cause of death, not by any huge growth in the number of people who died. Which experts, and does that alone really account for an incredible 17,000 more deaths? Alzheimer’s isn’t even mentioned in Bernstein’s video summary Here’s what you need to know about the life expectancy drop.

While the dramatic rise in Alzheimer’s deaths does not account for the overall increase in mortality–in fact, life expectancy at age 65 did not change–that is not the point. Why was there such an alarming rise in deaths from this disease?  And why doesn’t anyone seem to care?

Perhaps more than any other disease, Alzheimer’s is the condition that individuals do not want to have, families cannot bear to see, and the medical world views as futile.  Just as expectant parents and their doctors are willing the abort an estimated 67% of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, so, too, are families and doctors willing to be far less “aggressive” with the care of Alzheimer’s patients and so they die sooner.  This is euthanasia, and the rise in the Alzheimer’s deaths shows our culture moving to accept it.

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