Dementia kills nearly three times more people than previously thought

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In a new study, researchers found dementia may be an underlying cause of nearly three times more deaths in the U.S. than official records show.

They estimated that 13.6% of deaths are attributable to dementia, 2.7 times more than the 5.0% of death certificates that indicate dementia as an underlying cause of death.

The research was conducted by a team at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

In the study, the team used data from a nationally-representative cohort of 7,342 older adults. They analyzed the association between dementia and death.

They found that the underestimation varies greatly by race, with 7.1 times more Black older adults, 4.1 times more Hispanic older adults, and 2.3 times more white older adults dying from dementia than government records indicate.

Dementia-related deaths were also underreported more for men than women, and more for individuals without high school education.

In addition to underestimating dementia deaths, official tallies also appear to underestimate racial and ethnic disparities associated with dementia mortality.

The current estimates indicate an urgent need to realign resources to address the disproportionate burden of dementia in Black and Hispanic communities.

These findings indicate that dementia represents a much more important factor in U.S. mortality than previously indicated by routine death records.

The study highlights the importance of expanding dementia prevention and care.

One author of the study is Dr. Andrew Stokes, an assistant professor of global health at BUSPH.

The study is published in JAMA Neurology.

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