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Posted: June 24, 2008

Alzheimer's Deaths Mount as US Life Expectancy Increases

The relentless pace of Alzheimer’s disease continued to claim more lives in 2006, leapfrogging diabetes to become the Number 6-leading killer of all Americans that year, new government figures show.

The Alzheimer’s death rate climbed faster than for any of the other top-ten killers, raising questions not only about the spread of the incurable mind-robbing disease itself, but also for the ever-increasing caregiving burden it causes.

In all, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 72,914 Americans died from Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia in the elderly, during 2006, which is the latest year with such statistics available.

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The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.2 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and that by 2010 there will be nearly 500,000 new cases a year. The Association predicts that there will be nearly 1 million new cases each year by 2050, unless a cure is found and as the proportion of elderly in the US population increases.

The Alzheimer’s statistics were announced as part of a CDC report that also carried good news: US life expectancy hit a record high of 78.1 years in 2006, up from a record of 77.8 years in 2005. Life expectancy for women (80.7 years) continued to exceed that for men (75.4 years). Stats showed racial disparities as well, with life expectancy at 81 years for white women compared to 76.9 for black women, and white men's life expectancy at 76 years compared to 70 for black men.

CDC reported that rates for 14 of the top 15 causes of death fell in 2006, noting the steepest decline in influenza and pneumonia deaths, at 13%, compared to 2005.

The top two killers remained heart disease and cancer. CDC said 629,191 Americans died from heart disease in 2006, while cancer claimed 560,102 lives. Stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease (for example, emphysema), and accidents rounded out the top five, before Alzheimer’s reared it head at Number 6.

Meanwhile, diabetes fell to Number 7 on the list, where Alzheimer's had been the previous year, the CDC said. The diabetes death rate actually fell 5% from 2005, with CDC noting advances in treatment, even though the number of diabetic diagnoses is increasing, as the main cause for this improvement.

Among the top 15 causes of death, only kidney disease, at Number 9, did not drop, instead remaining steady in 2006 over 2005, the CDC said.

The overall number of deaths in 2006 in the United States was 2,425,900, a decrease of 22,117 from the 2005 total in the nation with a total population of about 300 million. The CDC said the milder flue season in 2006 may have accounted for some portion of the lower death rate.

The CDC based its report on data from nearly all death certificates nationwide. The complete CDC report can be found by clicking here.

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