Number of seniors who die with dementia rises 30% since early 2000s

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Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries in the United States die with a diagnosis of dementia on their medical records, according to a new study. Photo by Gundula Vogel/Pixabay

Rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia among Medicare beneficiaries increased by more than 30% over the past two decades or so, an analysis published Friday by JAMA Health Forum found.

In 2017, 47% of Medicare beneficiaries who died had received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia within two years of their deaths, up from 35% in 2004, the data showed.

Diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias among Medicare beneficiaries increased by more than 33% between 2011 and 2013 alone, the researchers said.

During this period, Congress passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which required the federal Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan address dementia, they said.

“Nearly half of all older adults now die with a diagnosis of dementia listed on their medical record,” study co-author Dr. Julie Bynum told UPI in an email.

However, “the sharp rise may have more to do with better public awareness, more detailed medical records and Medicare billing practices,” said Bynum, a professor of geriatric and palliative medicine at the University of Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor.

About 6 million people in the United States have some form of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition, many more experience mild cognitive impairment, a precursor for dementia many confuse with normal aging, research suggests.

In its 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated that the United States saw a 17% increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2020.

The findings of this study are based on an analysis of data for more than 3.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who died between 2004 and 2017, the researchers said.

“When older adults bring concerns about memory and thinking to their healthcare providers sooner and obtain a diagnosis, they have more of an opportunity to engage in advance care planning with their family,” Bynum said.

“With a diagnosis, people can engage in discussions about preferences for future end-of-life care for this prolonged disease that often leaves people unable not be able to speak for themselves,” she said.

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