Researchers have found that around 13.6% of deaths in the U.S. may come as the result of dementia. The figure, they say, is 2.7 times higher than that previously thought.
“In the case of dementia, there are numerous challenges to obtaining accurate death counts, including stigma and lack of routine testing for dementia in primary care,” says Dr Andrew Stokes, lead author of the study. “Our results indicate that the mortality burden of dementia may be greater than recognized, highlighting the importance of expanding dementia prevention and care.”
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from a nationally-representative group of 7,342 older adults taken from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a data set that focuses on people as they move into nursing homes.
The researchers examined data from older people who entered the group in 2000 and followed them until 2009. In particular, they analyzed the association between dementia and death. They adjusted their results for variables such as sex, age, ethnicity, level of education, location, and medical conditions.
In doing so, they found that much of the underestimation of dementia deaths could be attributed to race. Notably, they found that there were 7.1 times more black older adults dying from dementia than recorded in government records. Meanwhile, they found that there were 4.1 times more Hispanic older adults dying from the condition than previously thought, alongside 2.3 times more deaths among white older adults.
More than this, they found that dementia-related deaths were more often underreported for men than for women, and also more common among those without high school education. The researchers note that earlier findings suggest that dementia is more common among older adults who are black, male, and have less education.
The researchers say these findings are important as they may help health services and researchers prioritize resource allocation to better treat the condition and save lives.