Why are Alzheimer's disease deaths up significantly in Georgia?

Almost everyone knows that Alzheimer's disease can have devastating effects on memory, but not everyone realizes that it's also an increasingly common cause of death.

In Georgia, the number of deaths from Alzheimer's has increased by 201 percent since 2000 and it's now the state's sixth-leading cause of death, according to Georgia Health News.

Deaths from Alzheimer's have increased rapidly in Georgia, the jump is nearly double the rise nationally, with Alzheimer’s death growing by 123 percent since 2000 across the country.

The reasons behind the overall increase aren't as dire as they may seem at first glance. The most straightforward reason is that the population is aging, with baby boomers turning 65 at large rates every day, according to Amy Johnston, senior director of marketing and communications at the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

People are also surviving other diseases at greater rates, making it more likely that they'll become old enough to die as a result of Alzheimer's, Johnston said.

"Fewer deaths are being caused by things like stroke, heart disease or cancer," Johnston pointed out.

In addition, Alzheimer's is being diagnosed earlier, so there's more awareness of the disease as a potential cause of death.

Why are Georgia's numbers so high?

So why is Georgia's rate so much higher than what's being seen nationally?

Our relatively low cost of living and good climate has led to a huge increase in retirees in Georgia.

"Georgia is a 'halfback' state," Johnston said, referring to the phenomenon of Northerners moving to Florida, then later moving to states such as Georgia, which are (sort of) halfway back to the Northeast.

How does Alzheimer's disease lead to death?

Alzheimer's destroys nerve connections in the brain, but this isn't what makes it deadly.

It’s the fact that these conditions causes complications with cognitive functions like eating properly. Not being able to swallow properly, for example, can cause food or liquid to go down the windpipe rather than the esophagus, leading to potentially deadly pneumonia. The inability to move around can lead to bedsores and infections, which can also lead to death.

What are some common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

Recognizing the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can help you or your loved one explore treatments that may help relieve some of the symptoms.

It also gives you more time to plan for the future and help manage the costs associated with the disease.

Although many people think of Alzheimer's as being related to memory issues, the disease can also cause other symptoms, such an ability to plan or complete tasks, Johnston said.

The following are some common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease:

  • Memory loss – Especially forgetting recently learned information and forgetting important events or dates
  • Difficulty with daily tasks – Such as following a familiar recipe, keeping track of regular bills or driving to a familiar location
  • Confusing time or place – Forgetting what season it is or forgetting where you are or how you got there
  • Misplacing things – By putting items in unusual places or by being unable to retrace your steps
  • Poor judgment -A change in personal hygiene habits or judgment, such as giving large amounts of money to telemarketers
  • Changes in personality – frequently becoming confused, anxious or fearful