Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dementia killing more Australians

TWICE as many Australians are dying from dementia and Alzheimer's disease than 10 years ago.

But heart disease and cancer are still the country's biggest killers, say the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2006 cause-of-death figures, released yesterday.

Heart disease killed 22,983 Australians, 6500 fewer than a decade before. Strokes killed 11,465, almost 1000 fewer than in 1997. But dementia and Alzheimer's killed 6542, 3158 more than in 1997.

The figures reveal dramatic differences between the sexes in causes of death.

Lung cancer was the third biggest killer, of 4665 men and 2683 women.

More than three quarters of suicides involved males. They also made up three quarters of fatal road accidents and 69% of cirrhosis and other liver disease deaths.

Women were much more likely to die from dementia and Alzheimer's — making up more than two thirds of all such deaths. Women were also over-represented in strokes, heart failure and influenza and pneumonia deaths.

In the 10 years from 1997, Australia's population grew by 11.8% but the number of deaths grew by only 2.3%.

This "greying" of Australia was the main explanation for the big jump in deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's, said Professor Colin Masters, director of the Mental Health Research Institute.

"We are pushing people's life spans out now," he said. "The peak age for the onset of Alzheimer's is about 80 years of age. We need to get control of this epidemic."

The increase might also be explained by better reporting of the true cause of death. "We have really always known that dementia and Alzheimer's were in the top five causes of death, but it might have been recorded as a death from an infection."

In the short term he expects the figure to keep rising, but in the long term there is hope for a dramatic reversal.

Professor Masters is co-founder of Prana Biotechnology, which recently announced research that showed significant progress in finding a drug that could delay the onset of Alzheimer's by targeting the molecule in the brain that causes the disease.

"If we can delay the onset by about five years, we can reduce the prevalence of the disease by more than 50%," he said. "But we are not going to have such a drug for a few more years at least."

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/dementia-killing-more-australians/2008/03/14/1205472085354.html


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