Better patient care is believed to be the main reason for the significant change in the proportion of older people affected by dementia at the end of life.
The proportion of elderly American patients dying with a diagnosis of dementia has increased from 35 percent to 47 percent in thirteen years.
An increase that is also linked to better care
One in two older people in the US now dies with a dementia diagnosis. These numbers alone would be staggering. But what stands out most in a study from the University of Michigan and published in JAMA Health Forum is that this proportion has increased from 35% in 2004 to 47% in 2017!
The researchers discovered this increase by analyzing data on 3.5 million people over the age of 67 who died between 2004 and 2017. They looked at claims sent to health insurance related to the last two years of patients’ lives: while only 35% of these claims in 2004 concerned the cost of dementia care, the percentage rose to 47% by 2017.
47 percent of older people in the US dies with a diagnosis of dementia
Better coverage in the US Medicare system
Does this mean that dementia in the elderly at the end of life is increasing significantly and rapidly? Not necessarily, say the authors of this study. In fact, they note that the largest increase in the percentage of people dying with a dementia diagnosis occurred when the US Medicare health care system allowed medical practices and care centers to list diagnoses in their documents. And also at that, the National Alzheimer’s Disease Plan was implemented, which likely helped raise awareness of dementia and increased the number of patients receiving treatment.
More patients have access to palliative care
The study, published in JAMA Health Forum, also shows that care for dementia patients reduced the number of deaths in nonspecialized hospital wards and intensive care units. In contrast, the number of people receiving palliative care at the end of life increased from 36 percent in 2004 to 63 percent in 2017.
“Where the problem has likely been underdiagnosed in the past, we can now better use these statistics on the number of dementia diagnoses to plan health care spending and adjust Medicare coverage,” says Julie Bynbum, professor of geriatric medicine.