GWEN IFILL (NewsHour): We have reported often on how the number of Americans coping with Alzheimer’s disease will grow in coming years. Now a new study finds Alzheimer’s may already account for many more deaths than realized.
Hari Sreenivasan, reporting from our New York studio, gets the details.
HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour): The CDC ranks Alzheimer’s as the sixth-leading killer in the U.S., accounting for nearly 85,000 deaths a year. But the study in the journal “Neurology” puts the annual death toll around half-a-million, making it the third-leading cause of death, just behind heart disease and cancer, and ahead of chronic lung disease and strokes.
Dr. Bryan James, an epidemiologist with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, led the research. He joins us now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, give me an example of how Alzheimer’s is the underlying cause of death, if a heart attack is what’s listed on the death certificate.
DR. BRYAN JAMES, Rush University Medical Center: Right.
Ya, I think many people don’t realize that Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal disease. It leads to death very slowly over many years. It starts in the part of your brain that controls your memory and your thinking, and we’re all pretty much aware of that. But what people don’t know is that, over time, it slowly spreads to the parts of your brain that control your more basic functions, like swallowing and breathing and your heart rate.
And this can lead to fatal conditions such as pneumonia and heart failure.