Bringing a ‘hidden killer’ out into the open

Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer, with someone developing it every three minutes. Many find this shocking statistic difficult to comprehend and wonder how it is calculated.

The answer lies in a change in the way deaths are recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which now gives us a more accurate picture of dementia’s impact on society.

It used to be that when people with dementia passed away, the immediate cause of death – for example pneumonia, an infection or even a fall – was recorded on their death certificate. That meant the true scale of dementia deaths remained ‘hidden’.

Now, however, doctors record dementia as the main cause of death if it is deemed to be the key underlying condition – when, for example, it causes people to have severely weakened immune systems that leave them susceptible to infections or makes it impossible for them to swallow.

In such circumstances, it is dementia that has caused the damage – so it is quite right that it is recorded as the main cause of death.

However, whilst we do now have more clarity, dementia deaths are still not fully realised. Two recent studies estimated that more than 40% of people who die with dementia in the UK do not have it recorded on their death certificates.

It’s clear from these figures that dementia is set to be a major health crisis for years to come. We need to boost investment into research for treatments that can slow or prevent it, as well as developing more effective ways to care for people.

Medical progress has saved and improved the lives of thousands with heart disease, stroke and cancer. It is time dementia had the financial backing it deserves to make similar progress possible.

Please help us bring about change by visiting  and joining our campaign.

Ken Oxley is Media Officer for Alzheimer’s Society in the North East and Cumbria

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