Why Alzheimer's disease deaths are sharply rising

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The at-risk population is growing, and isn't dying from other causes

It's an alarming statistic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports deaths from Alzheimer's disease surged 55% from 1999 to 2014.

So, what exactly are we to take from that, given that estimates of future Alzheimer's cases are also rising, since the aging population is growing at a fast pace?

The CDC lists several reasons for the sharp rise in deaths. First, the aging population is growing. The first Baby Boomers turn 70 years-old this year, and each year after another group of Boomers passes the 65 year-old mark, a milestone for the development of Alzheimer's.

People are also living longer, meaning they aren't dying from other diseases. Alzheimer's is a fatal form of dementia, and if someone lives long enough, their chance of developing it -- and dying from it -- increases.

Attributed to other causes

In recent years, doctors have done a better job of diagnosing Alzheimer's. In the past, it is possible people died from Alzheimer's but their deaths were attributed to other causes.

So it doesn't necessarily mean more people are developing the disease than they otherwise would, there are simply more people now who are at risk.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC's acting director, says there's another statistic that should stand out. The number of people with Alzheimer's who died at home jumped from 14% to 25% over the same period. That means caregivers -- primarily a spouse or child -- is bearing a heavy burden.

Burden on caregivers

"As the number of older Americans with Alzheimer's disease rises, more family members are taking on the emotionally and physically challenging role of caregiver than ever before," Schuchat said. "These families need and deserve our support."

Christopher Taylor, Ph.D., lead author of the study, says caregiving becomes even more important in the latter stages of the disease.

"Caregivers and patients can benefit from programs that include education about Alzheimer's disease, how to take care of themselves and their loved one, and case management to lessen the burden of care," he said. "Supportive interventions can lessen the burden for caregivers and improve the quality of care for people with Alzheimer's disease."

Early intervention and diagnosis may also slow development of the disease. People 65 and over should be aware of symptoms such as memory loss, difficulties with problem solving, or misplacing objects. The CDC says an early diagnosis can allow patients and their families to better prepare for medical and caregiving needs at all stages of the disease.

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