One major television network, two television websites, two national newspapers, one major wire source and several consumer medical websites cover a new study indicating that Alzheimer’s deaths are seriously undercounted due to inaccurate information entered on death certificates. Currently, Alzheimer’s is listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the sixth-leading cause of death. The new study, however, calculates that it may actually be the third-leading cause of death.
In a segment on the NBC Nightly News (3/5, story 6, 2:40, Williams), chief medical editor Nancy Snyderman, MD, reported that according to a study (3/5) issued by the Rush University Medical Center, “the actual number of deaths each year from Alzheimer’s disease may be as many as half a million,” a figure “six times more than the 83,000 currently reported.” The discrepancy may arise because “death certificates are notoriously inaccurate, focusing only on the immediate cause of death.”
Bloomberg News (3/6, Cortez) focuses on the study’s methodology, pointing out that researchers “tracked two groups of people who enrolled in long-term studies and agreed to donate their brains after death,” noting “who developed Alzheimer’s and who didn’t, and then compar[ing] death rates among the two groups.” None of the 2,566 older adults tracked had dementia at the start of the study. Eventually, investigators “calculated the number of deaths that could be ascribed to Alzheimer’s by comparing the number of expected deaths based on those without the disease to the number of people who actually did die after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.”
— “Alzheimer’s Estimated to Be No. 3 Killer Disease in U.S.,” Michelle Fay Cortez, Bloomberg News, March 5, 2014.