Death rates from neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s have soared—and Americans are much likelier to die from these diseases than those in most other developed countries.
To get their results, researchers from Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom looked at World Health Organization mortality statistics for 21 developed nations, comparing the 1989–91 period with the 2008–10 time frame.
In 1991, the United States ranked 17th out of 21 countries in deaths from neurological disorders. By 2010, it had climbed up to second place.
For adults worldwide between the ages of 55 and 74, overall neurological death rates barely budged, rising 2 percent for men and 1 percent for women. But in the United States, death rates from dementia and other brain-related illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and motor neuron disease spiked, jumping 82 percent for men and 48 percent for women. American men and women in this age group now have the second-highest neurological death rates in the developed world, behind Finland. In the earlier period, they ranked 17th and 11th, respectively.
For the elderly (aged 75 and up), the situation is even more dire. Overall, the neuro-related death rate jumped 114 percent for men and 185 percent for women. In the United States, elderly death rates from neurological causes leapt more than twofold (368 percent) for men and more than fivefold (663 percent) for women. In America, more elderly women die of neurological causes than cancer.
Lifestyle factors might play a role in all of this. Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, said that there are significant but still-inconclusive links between cognitive decline and diet-related maladies like obesity and diabetes. A 2015 paper she co-authored delivered a view on the relationship. Here’s a summary.
Increasingly, it seems clear that high-sugar diets contribute to cognitive decline. There’s also compelling evidence that air pollution might be a trigger of neurodegenerative diseases.