(Bloomberg) — Alzheimer’s may be six times more deadly to U.S. residents than the most commonly quoted statistics suggest, according to a new study.
Only about 83,000 U.S. death certificates list Alzheimer’s as a cause of death each year, but the condition may actually kill about half a million U.S. residents per year, researchers report.
The condition is best known for causing memory loss and confusion, but it also damages the parts of the brain that control basic functions like breathing and swallowing.
Heart disease and cancer remain the top two U.S. killers.
Alzheimer’s would replace respiratory disease as the third most common cause of death, based on the study results, up from sixth.
Caring for patients with Alzheimer’s already costs more than $200 billion a year.
The new study justifies calls for the country to spend more on Alzheimer’s research, according to Bryan James, the lead author and an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
“We think Alzheimer’s disease has been getting short shrift because it hasn’t been considered a major killer, when it’s really one of the top three in the country,” James said in a telephone interview.
The findings, published in the journal Neurology, also underscore the difficulty of identifying the ailments that cause people to die based on death certificates, which typically list only the immediate reason for the death, such as the heart stopping, James said.