A large proportion of dementia deaths in England and Wales may be due to socioeconomic deprivation, according to new research led by Queen Mary University of London.
The team also found that socioeconomic deprivation was associated with younger age at death with dementia, and poorer access to accurate diagnosis.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in England and Wales, even during the COVID pandemic, and is the only disease in the top ten causes of death without effective treatment.
The research, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, examines Office for National Statistics mortality data for England and Wales, and finds that in 2017, 14,837 excess dementia deaths were attributable to deprivation, equating to 21.5 per cent of all dementia deaths that year. The team also found that the effect of this association appears to be increasing over time.
Corresponding author Dr Charles Marshall from Queen Mary University of London, whose work is funded by Barts Charity, said: "Understanding how we might prevent dementia deaths is especially important. Persistent and widening socioeconomic inequality might be having an unrecognised impact on brain health. Addressing this inequality could be an important strategy to help stem the rising tide of dementia."
Various factors have been hypothesised to mediate the relationship between dementia and socioeconomic deprivation, including education, diet, vascular risk factors, stress and access to healthcare.
It is likely that poorer quality of diagnosis in more deprived patients means that they are being disadvantaged in terms of prognosis, counselling, planning of future care, access to appropriate symptomatic treatments and opportunities to participate in research.
The researchers say that although a direct causal relationship between socioeconomic status and dementia has yet to be established, deprivation could be a major target in public health approaches aimed at reducing the population burden of dementia.
The study has limitations in that it is an observational study, meaning that a causal link between deprivation and dementia cannot be confirmed, and there is a lack of detail on specific dementia subtypes within the ONS data which is likely to lead to incomplete ascertainment of dementia cases.
Queen Mary's Preventive Neurology Unit is supported by Barts Charity.
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Notes to the editor
* Research paper: Mark Jitlal, Guru NK Amirthalingam, Tasvee Karania, Eve Parry, Aidan Neligan, Ruth Dobson, Alastair J Noyce, Charles R Marshall. The influence of socioeconomic deprivation on dementia mortality, age at death and quality of diagnosis: a nationwide death records study in England and Wales 2001-2017. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 2021..
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About Queen Mary University of London
At Queen Mary University of London, we believe that a diversity of ideas helps us achieve the previously unthinkable.
In 1785, Sir William Blizard established England's first medical school, The London Hospital Medical College, to improve the health of east London's inhabitants. Together with St Bartholomew's Medical College, founded by John Abernethy in 1843 to help those living in the City of London, these two historic institutions are the bedrock of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Today, Barts and The London continues to uphold this commitment to pioneering medical education and research. Being firmly embedded within our east London community, and with an approach that is driven by the specific health needs of our diverse population, is what makes Barts and The London truly distinctive.
Our local community offer to us a window to the world, ensuring that our ground-breaking research in cancer, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, and population health not only dramatically improves the outcomes for patients in London, but also has a far-reaching global impact.
This is just one of the many ways in which Queen Mary is continuing to push the boundaries of teaching, research and clinical practice, and helping us to achieve the previously unthinkable.