There is nothing like a headline screaming about rising death rates from Alzheimer’s to get the attention of us older folks. When I read the Washington Post story initially I did a double take. The article is based on a new, very detailed report from the Center for Disease Control. Get out your critical thinking caps as that actual data needs to be dissected at bit before accepting that wholesale conclusion. I greatly admire and read the Washington Post on a regular basis. However, you can call it boomer denial of aging or whatever, this article leans toward throwing around statistics without trying to comprehend the very basis of ‘the facts.’
Last year in a blog: http://waystostay.org/?s=running+on+empty i referenced a Journal of American Medical Association ( JAMA) study that showed just the opposite. It anticipated a significant decrease in the percentage of people who got dementia. They attributed this to several factors, more education, better health habits, less obesity and wider use of anti cholesterol medications. The report had at the same time pointed out that there would still be more people with Alzheimer’s and dementia (two separate diagnoses) because of the swell in the size of the population. Therefore, I took the newer headline with a grain of salt.
But the numbers being thrown out are dramatic: a 54 % increase for the white population, 151% – Asian Americans, 107% – Hispanics – 99%- African Americans over the last 15 years. What does this really mean? If you dig deep into the actual CDC report * there are other truths hidden in the tale. Why would rates for other races more than double? Could it be cultural bias in family reporting? What does it really mean when 41 of 50 states have increases but three states have decreases in death rates – Maine, Maryland and Montana. Maine has had a significant decrease of 23.5% in deaths from Alzheimer’s despite the fact that they have some of the oldest population in the US. To their credit , Maine has been developing very future forward aging policies.
Call me a skeptic but I believe these increases also resulted from how doctors report cause of death. The actual CDC report address a lot of the factors that could be skewing these numbers. Reporting codes and diagnostic methods have changed and in the last 14 years, therefore doctors are citing Alzheimer’s more often as the primary cause. On the other hand they say it may be under-reported because for example, pneumonia is given as the cause of death when someone has been suffering from this scourge for years.
Looking even deeper in the weeds, the stats show the greatest increase in the 85 year old plus category. The incidence is as of 2014, 1006 out of 100000 people or 1%. That too many people to suffer the most insidious disease for which there is still no real treatment in any age category. I am certainly not doubting the CDC report overall and I hope it contributes to more intense efforts for better treatment and more attention to the needs of caregivers.
My caveat it not to let that screaming headline lead to a personal helpless/ hopeless response. There is fake news, and then there is iffy news that needs to be seen in the full light of day and picked apart. Do not succumb to a response that getting dementia or Alzheimer’s is inevitable. You have to believe there is something you can try to delay or avoid the whole losing your memory marbles part all together.
The media has a responsibility to also promote more recent findings that regular exercise, challenging your brain with new learning as well as keeping social connections does make a difference. Yes, the hard part is you have to work harder to try and maintain as much of your physical and mental abilities even when aging is chipping away at you. Keeping it together has now a new meaning for our generation and those before us.