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Alzheimer's Toll Continues to Rise as Research Reveals Startling New Facts on the Disease's Death Rate

03/26/2014 03:20 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2014

A new study has revealed that there are more uncounted victims of Alzheimer's disease than previously expected. While experts have already known that Alzheimer's disease ravages the brain and robs the brain of its basic ability to function, this new study has revealed that this condition can be blamed for more deaths than previously imagined, putting it right under heart disease and cancer in terms of the most deadly disease in the United States. Heart disease was blamed for nearly 600,000 deaths in 2010 and cancer was responsible for 575,000.

The new study, published earlier this year in the Neurology Journal by researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, revealed that the number of deaths actually attributed to Alzheimer's could be up to six times higher than experts previously thought. The numbers from the study have been startling to researchers, as it revealed that as many as 500,000 were killed by Alzheimer's disease in 2010 alone. This makes the condition as deadly as cancer. Original numbers estimated that Alzheimer's disease was responsible for 83,000 fatalities in 2010, meaning the number calculated from the new study is more than six times the amount as originally assumed.

According to the team at Rush University, the issue for the discrepancy in numbers is simple; death certificates are known for underreporting deaths from Alzheimer's and dementia. Typically when an individual dies from Alzheimer's disease, only the immediate cause of death, such as pneumonia, is listed. However, the underlying causes, such as Alzheimer's disease, are usually not listed on the death certificate.

This study followed over 2,500 people over the age of 65. Approximately one-fourth of these individuals developed Alzheimer's disease over the course of the study. The disease was the cause of death in approximately 400 of those involved. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Illinois Department of Public Health. According to experts in the industry, those who understand the death registration process are not surprised by the findings or that Alzheimer's is usually not listed on a death certificate even when it's an underlying issue.

This is not the only study on the topic either. Additional studies are currently underway to help push the findings found in the Rush University study. The goal of many of these studies is to remind health care professionals that Alzheimer's is a serious public health problem and that we need to bring awareness to the issue. Many believe this can be done by encouraging physicians to note Alzheimer's when filling out their death certificates, so as a country, we can have a better understanding of the ravaging effects of this disease.

Research estimates that 5.2 million had Alzheimer's in 2013 and that Alzheimer's related deaths increased by as much as 68 percent in the past decade. While the Obama administration has released plans to add another $156 million into Alzheimer's research, the Alzheimer's Association is estimating the disease costs more than $200 billion per year. This means while progress is being made much more needs to be invested into Alzheimer's research if we ever hope to find a cure for this truly devastating disease.