For a long time, doctors didn’t consider dementia to be a cause of death.
Throughout much of the 20th century, dementia was merely a complication—if it was diagnosed at all. Severe, progressive cognitive deterioration was simply part of the normal aging process, the assumption went. Sure, it got in the way of treating actually fatal health complications, like pneumonia or heart failure, but loss of mental faculties doesn’t stop your heart.
Today, doctors know the truth: Dementia kills. A lot. In 2017, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established Alzheimer’s disease—the primary cause of dementia—as the sixth leading cause of death in the country, accounting for over 121,000 yearly fatalities. Although this is the same ranking it held in 2007, back then it killed about 75,000 adults per year. It will likely move up in the rankings as the population over 65 eclipses that of children in the next 15 years.