Data from the Office for National Statistics in the news last week was heralded by the BBC - Dementia is the leading cause of death for women. They say that “the disease” kills more than three times as many women as breast cancer and thousands more than either heart attacks or stroke.
This is infuriating and probably misleading.
Dementia is not a “disease”. It’s a general collection of symptoms caused by very specific diseases. Some experts say you can’t diagnose those diseases till post mortem, but here we have doctors apparently registering it as a “cause of death” in a huge number of cases. ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ is a disease and so is ‘vascular disease’ and they both give dementia symptoms, but it is not the dementia symptoms that kills most affected people.
Bottom of the UK league
Doctors in England and Wales have been slow to give people with dementia a formal diagnosis. They are bottom of the UK league. With minimal diagnosis in life, why are they so confident to say after death that “dementia” was the final problem in so many cases? Even at post mortem, you can have Alzheimer and vascular brain changes but never had dementia symptoms, so are they counting up people with no dementia symptoms as well? It is just a muddle.
Loads of old people in hospital at the end of life because they are sick and full of medication have symptoms that are like dementia but which are caused by delirium, an organic condition often caused by doctors, fluctuating and temporary. Are they being counted in? Almost half of dementia is caused by vascular dementia aka stroke. How can stroke be both first AND third cause of death?
An incredible social and behavioural problem
I hate the casual and dismissive way that headlines refer to this incredible social and behavioural problem. Even the language of the ONS report should be challenged assertively. If the issue is worth discussion and the figures are worth gathering, we deserve better than this mash up of words masquerading as information. Not least I wonder why old age and frailty are not listed as causes of death? Or is that just because doctors don’t believe in it?