Nearly one in eight deaths last year were caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, figures showed on Thursday.
Dementia has become the leading cause of death as other diseases are gradually conquered, and as the increasingly aged population means more and more people are vulnerable.
The breakdown from the Office for National Statistics found that dementia was responsible for 12 percent of all deaths in 2016, with heart disease, for many years the greatest killer, the cause of 11 percent.
Dementia became the most common killer in 2015 after numbers of deaths from heart disease declined rapidly – and last year the gap between the number of dementia and heart disease deaths widened.
The share of deaths from heart disease for both men and women has more than halved since the start of this century, while dementia deaths have more than doubled.
Vasita Patel, of the ONS said: ‘Although increases in longevity and improved treatment of other conditions are part of the reason for this increase, improvements in recognition, identification and diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have also contributed.’
Dementia is itself a cause of death, because the gradual decline in the condition of sufferers means that eventually their brain can no longer maintain the functions of the body. But people in its later stages are also vulnerable to other diseases and infections. A doctor may choose to record any of these as the cause of death on a death certificate.
The ONS report found that there were 525,048 deaths in England and Wales in 2016, down by 0.9 per cent on the year before thanks to better health and greater longevity.
A total of 62,948 died from dementia, 41,747 of them women and 21,201 men.
The biggest killer among men was still heart disease, but among women dementia deaths were nearly double those from heart disease.
A total of 57,777 died from heart disease, 35,418 of them men and 22,359 women.
The third most common cause of death was strokes, which killed 32,627 last year.
Dementia was the biggest killer of people over 80, responsible for nearly one in five of all deaths in this age group.
At younger ages, people were more likely to die from heart disease or cancers. For those aged between 35 and 49, the greatest cause of death among women was breast cancer, and, among men, suicide.
The new evidence of the growing threat of dementia brought warnings from pressure groups over the failure of governments to produce ideas to improve the struggling system of providing care for older people who can no longer cope by themselves.
Nicola O’Brien, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said that the figures were ‘a further wake-up call that the UK is woefully underprepared to cope with the scale of the challenge’.