Dementia biggest concern for Aussie women

Tracey Ferrier
(Australian Associated Press)


Heart disease remains Australia’s biggest killer, but dementia is gaining ground and is now the leading cause of death among Aussie women, a new report says.

The report on what is killing Australians has also put drug deaths at a 20-year high, with 1808 people succumbing last year to prescription and illicit drugs – the highest since heroin use was rampant in the late 1990s.

Unlike the heroin boom 20 years ago, most deaths can be put down to prescription drugs and two in particular: Benzodiazepines and Oxycodone, which are used to manage anxiety and pain.

But death rates from illicit drugs also rose in 2016, driven by the use of drugs such as ice, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said in its annual causes-of-death report.

“While prescription drugs actually cause the highest numbers of drug induced deaths, there has been a rapid increase in the number of methamphetamine deaths, with the death rate in 2016 four times that in 1999,” the ABS says.

The report examined the causes of the 158,504 deaths recorded in Australia last year.

In many ways the picture is the same as last year, but there are also some marked changes.

Last year, heart disease remained Australia’s biggest killer, accounting for 12 per cent of all deaths. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, came in second at 8.3 per cent, and cerebrovascular diseases, such as stroke, was third at 6.6 per cent.

But in 2016, for the first time, dementia killed more women than heart disease.

Last year 8447 women died from the condition, slightly more than the 8207 female deaths put down to heart disease.

The same isn’t true for men, with dementia only the third-leading cause of death last year at 4679 male deaths, compared to 10,870 from heart disease.

But experts believe it won’t be long until dementia is the top killer for both men and women, and it’s related to advancements in heart disease prevention and treatment.

“Numbers and rates of death from heart disease have been decreasing for almost 50 years, while deaths from diseases such as dementia have increased as life expectancy has increased,” the ABS says.

“While heart disease remains the leading cause for men, it is likely that in time this will also be surpassed by dementia as treatments for other leading causes such as heart disease improve and men live longer lives.”

The ABS report said cancer accounted for almost 30 per cent of the deaths reported in Australia last year, with lung cancer the most common.

Suicide remains the leading cause of premature death in Australia, with 2862 people taking their own lives last year. It’s the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44.

In good news, the infant mortality rate is at a record low of 3.1 deaths per 1000 live births.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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