Alzheimer’s and kidney diseases claiming more lives

More New Zealanders died from Alzheimer's disease and chronic kidney disease last year than in 1990, a study has found.

However, Kiwis are living longer and fewer are being killed on the roads and dying from pneumonia.

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, conducted by an international consortium of researchers co-ordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, did a comprehensive analysis of trend data from 188 countries.

It found the leading killers in New Zealand were ischemic heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's disease, which accounted for 37 per cent of all deaths last year.

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Professor Valery Feigin, director of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at AUT University, said "noncommunicable disease" and ailments such as Alzheimer's, stroke, diabetes and lung cancer were taking more lives each year.

Alzheimer's and chronic kidney disease rose 126 per cent and 117 per cent respectively, and diabetes increased 111 per cent between 1990 and 2013.

"New Zealand must keep a steady focus on combating these major causes of mortality," Professor Feigin said.

Alzheimer's NZ executive director Catherine Hall said the rise in the number of Alzheimer's deaths was because New Zealanders were living longer.

Last year, the average life expectancy for women was 82.7 years, and 78.6 years for men.

In 1990, women lived an average of 78.2 years and men had a life expectancy of 72.5 years.

New Zealand ranked 25th for women and 20th for men for longest life expectancies among the 188 countries included in the study.

"Dementia and Alzheimer's disease usually affect older people, and as the number of older people grow we expect the number of people with dementia to grow," Ms Hall said.

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She said there were now an estimated 50,000 dementia sufferers, but that number is expected to triple by 2050.

Dr Neeraj Bhala, consultant physician at Wellington Regional Hospital, said New Zealand had "achieved great progress" in reducing mortality from a number of diseases, including pneumonia and ischemic heart disease.

"But the increases in deaths from Alzheimer's disease, stroke, colorectal cancer and other deadly ailments are alarming and show more progress needs to be made," said Dr Bhala.

Top causes of death in NZ

1990 (deaths)

1. Ischemic heart disease (7034)

2. Stroke (2677)

3. Lung cancer (1420)

4. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1344)

5. Alzheimer's disease (1176) 6. Pneumonia (1114)

7. Colon cancer (1095)

8. Road injuries (745)

9. Breast cancer (615)

10. Suicide (481)

2013 (deaths)
1. Ischemic heart disease (6739)
2. Stroke (2900)
3. Alzheimer's disease (2659)
4. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1841)
5. Lung cancer (1837)
6. Colon cancer (1557)
7. Chronic kidney disease (809)
8. Prostate cancer (789)
9. Diabetes (731)
10. Pneumonia (723)

- Source: Global Burden of Disease Study 2013