Rise in dementia deaths linked to environment

By Celia Hall, Medical Editor

Telegraph Group Limited

(Filed: 13/08/2004)

The number of deaths related to dementia and other mental disorders has soared in 20 years, with serious implications for health services, patients and their families, a researcher said yesterday.

Deaths are occurring in younger age groups, said Colin Pritchard, of Southampton University medical school's mental health group, in the journal Public Health.

For example, deaths from dementia in men aged 55 to 64 increased by 29 per cent in England and Wales between 1979 and 1997.

Dementia deaths overall in England and Wales in the 45 to 74 age group rose from 1,116 in men in 1979 to 3,290 in 1997 and from 2,204 to 6,100 in women.

Prof Pritchard analysed deaths in several developed countries in two categories: mental disorder deaths, which includes illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer's; and neurological disease deaths, including conditions such as motor neurone disease.

In the second category, the increases over the period were more marked in people aged 65 to 74. For men and women respectively, the increases in England and Wales were 14 per cent and 18 per cent.

Similar rises in both categories can be seen in across Europe, North America, Australia and Japan. They cannot simply be accounted for by people living longer.

Prof Pritchard said yesterday: "The first reason for these changes has to be environmental. There is no other logical reason for the increases in these diseases in people still in their sixties.

"One study in California, for example, has found a correlation between the use of pesticides and an increase in Parkinson's disease.

"On the human side, I am very concerned. There is nothing more harrowing for a person or their family when their humanity is eroded, which happens with these mental diseases that can leave the person as a husk of who they have been.

"This causes distress and anguish for the individual and for their family. We are going to need increasing numbers of care beds and there will be great pressure on the community services."