- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

The death rate from Alzheimer’s disease in the United States rose nearly 6 percent from 2002 to 2003, while the rates for most of the other leading causes of death fell, said a federal report released yesterday.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, “Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2003,” is based on data from 93 percent of state death records for that year. Final figures will be available in September.

Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch for NCHS, said the 5.9 percent rise in deaths from Alzheimer’s during the one-year period was in sharp contrast to the “significant declines” in mortality from the nation’s top three killers: heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Although many more Americans died of those diseases than Alzheimer’s in 2003, the death rates from heart disease, cancer and stroke dropped 3.6 percent, 2.2 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, compared with 2002 statistics.

“Of the leading causes of mortality, the 5.9 percent increase in the death rate for Alzheimer’s [which ranked eighth] was the highest,” Mr. Anderson said.

The second highest increase, 5.7 percent, came in deaths from hypertension and hypertensive kidney disease, which ranked 13th.

Deaths from Alzheimer’s, which destroys mental function, totaled more than 63,300 in 2003. Deaths from hypertension and hypertensive kidney disease totaled fewer than 22,000 in 2003.

“Even with the aging of the U.S. population, there is an increase in apparent risk for Alzheimer’s,” said Mr. Anderson. “It’s hard to tell if this is an increase in actual risk or if the higher death rate reflects diagnostic shifts.”

Doctors today, he said, are far more willing to diagnose Alzheimer’s than they once were because the characteristics of the disease are better known.

Mr. Anderson said one of the more startling findings in the report involved Parkinson’s disease. The death rate from Parkinson’s climbed 3.4 percent from 2002 to 2003, and nearly 18,000 patients died in that period.

“This was the first year that Parkinson’s was included in the top 15 causes of death,” he said.

The federal health statistician said he does not think the rising Parkinson’s death rate reflects diagnostic shifts.

“I just think there is more of it out there. … Deaths from Parkinson’s tend to occur in older people,” Mr. Anderson said.

The report also noted that the overall life expectancy of Americans hit a record high of 77.6 years. The average life expectancy of white women has exceeded 80 years since 1998, but 2003 marked the first year the average life span of U.S. women of all races topped 80 years.

For all men, life expectancy reached 74.8 in 2003, compared with 74.5 the previous year.

The gap between male and female life expectancy narrowed from 5.4 years in 2002 to 5.3 years in 2003.

For whites in general, life expectancy in 2003 was 78 years; for blacks, it was less than 73 years. Black men continued to have the shortest life expectancy, less than 70 years in 2003.

“The preliminary numbers are usually very close to the final numbers,” said Mr. Anderson, adding that any changes likely would occur in the categories of homicides, suicides or accidents.

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