What Is Cause of Death in Half of Seniors?

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As awareness of dementia has grown, a startling fact has come to light: Nearly half of all older adults — 47% — die with a diagnosis of that condition on their medical record, according to research out of the University of Michigan and published in JAMA Health Forum.

This 11% increase in diagnoses doesn’t necessarily indicate that dementia is growing more prevalent in society, researchers say.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Half of Older Adults Die with This Disease” explains that three factors have raised the profile of the illness, bringing greater attention to dementia that is reflected in medical records. The three factors are:

  • More public awareness about dementia
  • Greater detail in medical records; and
  • Changes in Medicare billing practices.

The researchers examined data from 3.5 million people ages 67 and older, whose deaths were between 2004 and 2017.

They particularly focused their investigation on bills submitted to the traditional Medicare system during the patients’ last two years of life.

In 2017, more than 47% of these billing claims had at least one mention of dementia, and 39% had at least two medical claims noting the presence of the condition.

That’s a significant jump from 2004, when just 35% of those end-of-life medical records had a single mention of dementia and 25% had two mentions.

The researchers say that the biggest increase in reported diagnoses of dementia occurred when Medicare first permitted providers of medical services to list additional diagnoses on their requests for payment.

As part of their research, the study authors also saw that end-of-life care for those with dementia has changed.

There has been a recent drop in the percentage of dementia patients who die in a regular hospital bed or ICU bed.

Fewer patients now have a feeding tube during the last six months of their lives, and a far higher percentage of dementia patients now receive hospice services than in the past.

As awareness of dementia continues to increase, the researchers say they hope that increasing numbers of older adults and their families will talk to health care providers about the type and level of care they want at the end of life, if they do develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive decline.

Reference: Money Talks News (April 13, 2022) “Half of Older Adults Die with This Disease”

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