Half of Older Adults Now Die With a Dementia Diagnosis, up Sharply From Two Decades Ago
Nearly half of all older adults now die with a diagnosis of dementia listed on their medical record, up 36% from two decades ago, a new study shows.
But that sharp rise may have more to do with better public awareness, more detailed medical records and Medicare billing practices than an actual rise in the condition, the researchers say.
Even so, they note, this offers a chance for more older adults to talk in advance with their families and health care providers about the kind of care they want at the end of life if they do develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive decline.
The study, published in JAMA Health Forum by a University of Michigan team, uses data from 3.5 million people over the age of 67 who died between 2004 and 2017. It focuses on the bills their providers submitted to the traditional Medicare system in the last two years of the patients’ lives.
In 2004, about 35% of these end-of-life billing claims contained at least one mention of dementia, but by 2017 it had risen to more than 47%. Even when the researchers narrowed it down to the patients who had at least two medical claims mentioning dementia, 39% of the patients qualified, up from 25% in 2004.
The biggest jump in the percentage of people dying with a dementia diagnosis happened around the time Medicare allowed hospitals, hospices and doctors’ offices to list more diagnoses on their requests for payment.
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