The Office of National Statistics has recently published data on cause of death in 2017. For the third year running Dementia and Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of death, and the trend is increasing. We have been monitoring this significant trend since it was first reported in 2016. See our previous reports on the 2016 and 2015 data.

The first summary point of the report on the 2017 report states:

“Deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer disease increased again in 2017 and it remained the leading cause of death in England and Wales, accounting for 12.7% of all deaths registered.” (This compares with 12% in 2016 and 11.6% in 2015)

The report breaks the data down by gender: “Dementia and Alzheimer disease remained the leading cause of death for females in 2017, accounting for 16.5% of all female deaths, an increase from 15.6% in 2016.” For men the leading cause of death is ischaemic heart diseases, accounting for 13.7% of male deaths.

For the over ‘80s Dementia and Alzheimer disease remained the leading cause of death for both men and women. For men it was responsible for 15.1% of deaths aged 80 years and over, (up from 14.3% in 2016 and 13.7% is 2015). For women it was responsible for 23.2% of deaths over 80. (up from 22.2% in 2016 and 21.2% in 2015)

The annual ONS report groups causes of death according to a classification system developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), modified for use in England and Wales. The report explains that “at the broad disease group level, cancer remained the most common cause of death in 2017 (28.1% of all deaths registered), followed by circulatory diseases, such as heart diseases and strokes (25.0%).” However this latest report gives a greater level of detail in its analysis, separating out various different cancers for example

The report identifies several reasons why the statistics are showing a marked increase in deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer disease:

  • People are living longer and surviving other illnesses. Dementia and Alzheimer disease mainly affects people aged over 65 years.
  • Male life expectancy has been increasing faster than women’s. This is thought to contribute to the increase in death due to Dementia and Alzheimer disease in 2017
  • Better understanding is likely to have led to increased levels of diagnosis and a higher incidence of identifying Dementia and Alzheimer disease as the primary cause of death on death certificates.
  • The way in which cause of death was coded was changed in 2011 and 2014. This increased the number of deaths attributed to dementia.

MDMD’s coordinator Phil Cheatle says: “This continuing trend highlights the increasing importance of dementia and Alzheimer disease, especially for the elderly. It reinforces MDMD’s position that assisted dying legislation needs to give the option of an assisted death to people suffering from these terminal diseases. We believe that this can only be done safely while the person still has the mental capacity to make a life ending decision. This applies to people in the earlier stages of dementia and is the criterion used for dementia sufferers who seek a medically assisted death in Switzerland, like MDMD campaigner Alex Pandolfo. Unfortunately a law restricted to those with a life expectancy of six months or less would not help dementia and Alzheimer sufferers as by the time they reach this point, (which is impossible to accurately predict), they will not have sufficient mental capacity.”