The Surprising Reason Why Dementia Mortality In America Is At A Record High

Whether as a caregiver of a loved one or a nurse at a long-term care facility, many people provide the day-to-day support for those who have dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia is an umbrella term that describes conditions, such as Alzheimer's, that gradually cause a decline in cognitive skills, behavioral changes, and performance of daily activities. Dementia is not a normal sign of aging, but it is the result of brain cell damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer's and dementia-related diseases (ADRD).

According to the CDC, dementia diagnoses are actually increasing. It is predicted that by the year 2060, 14 million Americans will be diagnosed with ADRD, with Hispanics and African-Americans seeing the most significant increases. A new study published in JAMA Health Forum discussed a surprising factor affecting the increase in Americans dying with an ADRD diagnosis.

Increased awareness and insurance billing practices may affect ADRD death rates

The increase of Americans dying with a dementia diagnosis may not be due to a rise in dementia itself. Changes in billing practices and an increased awareness among patients, family members, and providers may be the cause of increased dementia diagnoses. Researchers of a 2022 study examined changes in the percentage of older Medicare decedents who received an ADRD diagnosis within two years of death from 2004 to 2017. According to U.S. News & World Report, 35% of the study sample in 2004 had end-of-life billing claims that mentioned dementia, and the number increased to 47% by 2017.

The study revealed that the increase in dementia diagnoses came at a time when Medicare allowed providers to list more diagnosis codes on billing claims (via U.S. News & World Report). The results of the study may have a positive impact on resources and funding available for Medicare recipients with a dementia diagnosis. Senior study author, Dr. Julie Bynum, a professor of geriatric medicine at Michigan Medicine, stated, "Where once the concern may have been under-diagnosis, now we can focus on how we use dementia diagnosis rates in everything from national budget planning to adjusting how Medicare reimburses Medicare Advantage plans."