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Life Health > Health Insurance

5 things to know about a scary neurological death study

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Your clients, your prospects — and your friends, neighbors, relatives and pizza delivery people  — may start talking to you about a creepy new paper: the one that shows that neurological death rates have increased in 20 rich countries, and soared in the United States.

See also: Alzheimer’s may be a top 3 killer

Colin Pritchard and Emily Rosenorn-Lang, researchers at Bournemouth University, a university in the United Kingdom, have published numbers supporting that frightening conclusion in an article in Surgical Neurology International, a peer-reviewed academic journal that seeks to encourage discussions about controversial issues.

The researchers collected death rate data for people ages 55 to 74, and for people ages 75 and older, for the United States, Canada, Japan and 20 Western European countries. 

The death rate figures included:

  • Data on deaths caused by neurological disorders, cancer and circulatory disease.
  • Data for the period from 1989 through 1992, and for the period from 2008 through 2010.

In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, the category for neurological causes of death includes conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, and “mad cow disease.”

The researchers compared how the annual neurological condition death rate changed, for the 55-74 age group and the 75-and-up age group for each country, between the 1989-1992 data collection period and the 2008-2010 data collection period.

In an effort to try to compensate for other trends that might have affected death rates, the researchers came up with the same types of tables for annual cancer and circulatory disorder death rates.

For all 20 countries, the neurological condition death rate increased 2 percent for the younger men, to 503 deaths per million men per year, and the neurological condition death rate for the younger women increased 1 percent, to 390 per million women.

For the men ages 75 and older, the total neurological condition death rate rose 117 percent, and the death rate rose 143 percent for the women.

For cancer and circulatory disorders, the 20-country death rates fell sharply.

In the United States, the picture was much different.

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Here, the cancer death rate and the circulatory death rate fell for everyone. The cancer death rate for the women in the 75-and-older age group fell just 2 percent. The other cancer and circulatory death rates fell at least 18 percent.

The U.S. neurological condition death figures look terrible.

The increase in the death rate was 82 percent, to 627 per million, for the younger men, and 368 percent, to 12,271, for the older men.

The increase was 48 percent, to 560, for the younger women, and 663 percent, to 21,253, for the older women.

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U.K. publications reported on the paper, and many U.S. news organizations, including CBS and the Washington Post, followed suit. 

What should you know to put the article in context? For some ideas, read on.


1. Providers’ official procedures for reporting causes of death have changed over time.

The earlier data collection period covers a time when physicians were just starting to get widespread access to computers, and, at that point, it’s possible that U.S. physicians, especially, were more likely to list “old age” or other general factor as the cause of death on death certificates.

Local health priorities could also affect recording to causes of death, the researchers say.

“Country-specific research would be needed to determine such influences,” the researchers say.

See also: 5 states where the Alzheimer’s death rate soared


2. General efforts to educate the public about dementia may have affected physicians’ awareness of conditions such as dementia.

Thanks, in part, to long-term care insurance (LTCI) issuers’ generous support of Alzheimer’s research, patient support and public education programs, patients and their physicians may be more aware of Alzheimer’s and more likely to identify that as a cause of death.

See also: Moore’s Oscar win puts Alzheimer’s film in spotlight


3. Successful efforts to fight conditions such as cancer may have led to changes in the listed causes of death for fragile people.

The researchers themselves know that older people are bound to die of something at some point.

Even at younger ages, successful efforts to fight cancer and heart disease might leave a pool of people who may have survived grave illnesses but are susceptible to dying young from other conditions. 

See also: Researchers: Cancer often due to biological ‘bad luck’


4. The researchers raised other researchers’ eyebrows by listing exposure to electromagnetic radiation as a possible cause of increased neurological death rates in the United States.

The researchers suggest that some factors that may have influenced health in recent decades include “increased population, economic activity, substantial rises in road and air travel; increased home technology involving background electromagnetic fields (mobile phones, microwave ovens, [and] computers).”

Many researchers are skeptical of claims that low-level exposure to electromagnetic fields could affect human health.

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5. Other researchers have found signs of an increase in dementia-related mortality.

It’s not yet clear whether changes in how health care providers diagnose neurological conditions and record causes of death are responsible for all of the increases in the reported U.S. neurological death rates.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported data suggesting that the age-adjusted U.S. Alzheimer’s death rate may have increased sharply in recent years.

See also: CDC: U.S. Death Rate Falls, Alzheimer’s Hits Harder 


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