A review of global causes of death has found that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias were the third leading cause of death in the UK last year, with the number of deaths from the condition up by 52% since 1990. The study, which also highlights a trend for increased life expectancy in the UK and across the globe, is published on Thursday 18 December in The Lancet.
The Global Burden of Disease Study was led by hundreds of researchers across the globe, and set out to provide a way to track national and global trends in causes of death over time. One aim of the study was to help assess the effectiveness of public health programmes and understand where action is still needed.
The researchers looked at data from different countries and global regions from 1990 through to 2013. They found that over that period, average life expectancy had increased from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 years in 2013. The researchers estimate that if this trend continues, by 2030 global life expectancy will have reached 85.3 years for women and 78.1 years for men. In the UK, life expectancy gains were not as large, increasing to 82.8 years for women in 2013 (up from 78.4 years in 1990), and to 79.1 years for men (up from 72.9 years).
When the team looked at the leading causes of death, they found that globally, death rates from infectious diseases had fallen between 1990 and 2013. In the UK, while coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death in both 1990 and 2013, the number of deaths per year from the disease fell by 45%. Meanwhile the number of deaths from stroke, the second leading cause of death in both years, also decreased by 25%. In contrast, the research showed 49,349 people died as a result of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia last year, compared to 32,429 people in 1990 – an increase of 52%.
Matthew Norton, Head of Public Affairs at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“This comprehensive study underlines the enormous scale of the challenge posed by dementia and the urgent need for action through investment in research. It’s a success story of modern medicine that people are living longer, but we must ensure that people can continue to enjoy good health and quality of life in these extra years. Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, and as life expectancy continues to improve worldwide, dementia is increasingly becoming our greatest medical challenge.
“This study highlights the success research has had in reducing the impact of other diseases, and we now need to see the same focus on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In the past year global leaders have shown a willingness to step up to this challenge with a commitment to find a disease-modifying treatment by 2025. We owe it to those living with dementia, including over 830,000 people in the UK, to hold them to this promise.”