(HealthDay News) — About half a million deaths in the United States may be attributable to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), more than five times as many as previously reported and similar to the number of deaths from heart disease and cancer, according to a study published online March 5 in Neurology.

Bryan D. James, PhD, from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues analyzed mortality data from 2,566 individuals (≥65 years) without dementia at baseline who were assessed annually for dementia.

After an average of eight years, the researchers found that 21.8% developed AD dementia and 42.4% died. The median time from diagnosis of AD dementia to death was 3.8 years. The risk of death was higher after a diagnosis of AD dementia among those 75–84 years old (hazard ratio, 4.30) and those ≥85 years (hazard ratio, 2.77). The population attributable risk was approximately one-third for both age groups (37.0 and 35.8%, respectively). According to the authors, this translates into an estimated 503,400 deaths from AD among people ≥75 years in the United States in 2010, compared with 83,494 reported based on death certificates.

“The estimates generated by this analysis suggest that deaths from AD far exceed the numbers reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and may be closer in magnitude to the number of deaths reported for heart disease and cancer,” James and colleagues conclude.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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