Dementia Is Identified As The Leading Cause Of Death Among Women

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At a guess, most of us would assume cancer or heart disease would be the biggest killer of women.

But the leading cause of death for women in England and Wales last year was dementia.

Official figures show the condition was the underlying cause of one in eight (12.2%) of all the female deaths recorded in 2013, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

The share of deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's jumped by 7.5 percentage points for women over the decade from 2003.

Dementia and related conditions - which were established as the leading cause of female fatalities for the first time in 2012 - was cited in a total of 41,112 deaths among both sexes last year.

It was the third most common cause of men dying, accounting for 6.2% of deaths.

The ONS said the trend was partly a result of people living longer.

It said: "Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's disease are increasing as people live longer, with women living longer than men. Some of the rise over the last few decades may also be attributable to a better understanding of dementia.

"This means that doctors may be more likely to record dementia as the underlying cause of death."

Hilary Evans, director of external affairs for Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "The figures highlight dementia as a huge problem that we cannot shy away from any longer.

"Encouragingly, the statistics reveal that other health conditions, such as heart disease, are beginning to be tamed and this has come about due to improved research into treatment, prevention and better public health.

"We must now turn our attentions to dementia - our greatest health challenge - and invest in research that will drive better prevention and treatment of the condition."

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Early Symptoms of Dementia

The most common cause of death for men was ischaemic heart disease, accounting for 15.4% of the total male deaths.

Cancers were the broad disease group for which the largest percentage of deaths were registered in 2013, accounting for almost a third (29%) of all deaths.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "Cancer remains a huge challenge.

"Although we have made great progress against it, it's still the highest cause of deaths in England and Wales, accounting for more than one in four of all deaths in 2013. This is partly because people in the UK are living longer.

"Cancer is more common in older people because there is more time for faults in cells to develop - these faults trigger the disease."

He said research has helped double survival rates among cancer patients in the last four decades, adding: "This trend is continuing for most types of cancer - our aim is to see three quarters of people surviving the disease within the next 20 years."

However, Prof Johnson warned there is "still so much to do".

"Earlier diagnosis, access to the right treatment at the right time, and preventing the disease through lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking all play a role in beating cancer," he said.

The ONS figures showed there were a total of 506,790 deaths registered in England and Wales in 2013, a rise of 1.5% compared with the previous year.

But age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) - the proportion of the population dying - fell. There were 11,583 deaths per million population for males and 8,526 deaths per million population for females.

Since 2003, ASMRs have fallen by 22% for men and 19% for women, the ONS said.