Is Alzheimer’s the New Cancer?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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How many deaths in the U.S. are really from Alzheimer’s? Dementia is a diagnosis that is easy to make while someone is living but to say it’s dementia from Alzheimer’s is another story, as it really takes a look at their brain tissue under the microscope to say for certain. Numbers just released show that 500,000 deaths a year, or more than a third in older adults, are due to Alzheimer’s disease. This makes it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

This made news because we had underestimated the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s. The CDC had estimated in 2010 that 80,000 deaths were attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. This matters for many reasons. We can all appreciate that It’s important to know the actual toll of AD from a scientific and public policy standpoint.

You see, when we fill out death certificates, often in a patient with Alzheimer’s we attribute the death to something like pneumonia or heart disease when in fact AD was the real cause.

For those of you with loved ones with Alzheimer’s you know how horrible it is, that you lose your personality and your memory slowly over time, and eventually, your brain will shut down and this can lead to your death. It is, as you know, a terminal disease; no one has ever been cured of Alzheimer’s.

These new numbers showing the higher number of deaths from Alzheimer’s came from brain and tissue so they appear to reflect the actual devastating toll of Alzheimer’s dementia. Though there is no cure, having more support for those suffering and their caregivers, and pursuing better treatment than we currently have is on everyone’s mind.

Dr O.

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