There’s been a two-fold increase in the number of Britons over the age of 65 dying with the disease, making it one of the greatest health risks for older people
Dementia is now the leading cause of death in women and second leading cause of death among men, according to figures from the Dementia Intelligence Network in collaboration with the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network.
In 2014, there were 73,189 deaths with a recorded mention of dementia, compared to figures from 2001, which found 32,600 had died with the disease.
So why is this happening? It could be down to a combination of different factors including increased awareness leading to more diagnoses, an ever-increasing ageing population, and improved survival rates for other illnesses such as cancer, meaning people live long enough to develop dementia. However, it’s also thought that dementia is more likely to be mentioned on death certificates, which could also explain the increase.
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
‘These figures underline an inescapable truth, that with no treatments to stop or slow the diseases that cause dementia, no one currently survives a diagnosis.
‘It’s likely the rise in mentions of dementia on death certificates is also partly a reflection of recent changes in the approach to death records.
‘There is now greater understanding dementia is caused by diseases that physically attack the brain, with diseases like Alzheimer’s now more likely to be acknowledged as a cause of death.
‘With an ageing population, we have seen the numbers of people developing the condition increase over time, and current projections show this number will continue to grow unless new treatments or preventions can be found.’
Professor Christian Holscher, a leading dementia researcher at Lancaster University, said:
‘The new figures underscore the great health risk dementia poses to our population.
‘More research should be funded to enable the development of effective treatments to stop this disease. Considering the associated costs are huge and will increase in the future, and the fact that the NHS budget is already stretched to breaking point, it would be a sensible investment.’
The Alzheimer’s Society were keen to point the inequality experienced between those dying with dementia and those dying without it.
Two thirds of the general population said they would prefer to die at home. This means with over 208,000 deaths with a mention of dementia recorded in 2012-14, approximately 140,000 people with dementia may have wanted to die at home but in reality, only 16,500 did.
Often this is because services are not currently equipped to help people die at home. There has been a call for an increase in dementia-specific palliative services, improving the adoption and quality of advanced care planning, and advocating GP-led holistic reviews for more co-ordinated care.
Martina Kane, Senior Policy Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said:
‘Dementia is still being overlooked as a terminal illness. Consequently, we continue to see the sustained failure to prepare and plan for end of life care for people with the condition. Everyone has the right to a dignified death in a place of their choosing, yet this report shows people with dementia are shamefully being treated as second class citizens.
‘One tenth of all recorded deaths are due to dementia, and it’s heart-breaking that so many people with the condition are spending their final days in unfamiliar surroundings. Some are not dying where they had hoped; others are dying in pain, or without dignity.
‘More advanced care planning is needed, a greater understanding of people’s wishes towards the end of life, and a push to provide more services in the community, allowing people remain where they want to be, at home, when possible.’