Rush University has just released a study, Contribution of Alzheimer Disease to Mortality in the United States, which indicates that Alzheimer's is under reported as the cause of death by doctors and coroners. They tend to list the cause of death as the acute, secondary condition in play when a person passes such a pneumonia or a urinary tract infection. However, the Alzheimer's patient's pneumonia or urinary tract infection become fatal because their body is no longer able to fight the infection due to the damage done by the Alzheimer's.
Listing the secondary condition as the cause of death leads to the CDC and other organizations tracking inaccurate or incomplete data. The full impact of Alzheimer's Disease goes unrecognized. There may already be half a million people who die of Alzheimer's in the US each year already. Keep in mind that the rate of people who have Alzheimer's is looking like it will triple in the near future. So, will we see 1.5 million die annually in the US as a result of Alzheimer's?
NBC News has published the story, "Alzheimer's Deaths May Rival Cancer, Heart Disease, Study Finds", in connection with the release from Rush University. It is worth taking a look at. The imbedded video is of the story that was run on the Nightly News on Wednesday night.
In connection to the under reporting of Alzheimer's as the cause of death, it is mostly omitted from references in obituaries as well. When I worked in the Alumni Office of my alma mater, I scrolled through all of the obituaries which were sent to us or which were published locally. While I wasn't looking for Alzheimer's specifically, I also don't remember seeing it in obituaries. Mom reads the obituaries in her local paper daily and, while always happy to not see her name listed, was surprised to find Alzheimer's referenced this week for the first time that she can recall.
The obituary was for Barbara T. Lenz, a 51 year old woman with Down's Syndrome. Her obituary is quite the celebration of her life.