INFECTIOUS diseases are no longer among the leading causes of death.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), there have been six million confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection and 7,000 deaths as at 30 April this year.
This already hints at the explanation as to why infectious diseases are no longer among the leading causes of death. Medical science has become very good at controlling outbreaks and saving people who get a potentially fatal infectious disease.
But if one thing doesn’t kill you, another thing will eventually.
The AIHW’s report Australia’s health 2022 does say that over the last century, “death rates have continuously declined”, but obviously this statement relates to particular diseases and conditions causing death, not the fact that in the end the total death rate is 100 per cent.
Heart disease is the overall leading cause of death among older Australians, but it’s being jostled by dementia.
Looking at two years of data (2018 to 2020), there were clear differences in the leading cause of death as people get older people.
The leading cause of death in the 65 to 74 age bracket is lung cancer followed by heart disease.
For 75 to 84-year-olds, heart disease is the main killer.
Anyone older than that has a one-in-five chance of dying from dementia and a one-in-seven chance of dying from heart disease.
The AIHW top 5 lists heart disease as the main killer of men, with dementia running second. For women, it’s just the other way around, dementia first, heart disease second.
Third and fourth for men are lung cancer and strokes respectively. Again, toggle the two for women, where strokes kill more than does lung cancer.
Fifth most common cause of death is prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women.
Meanwhile, the life expectancy of Australians continues to go up, and this is the reason why the AIHW fingers dementia as the most likely killer in years to come.
Clearly, relentlessly pushing up life expectancy just as relentlessly pushes up the chance of people dying from dementia.
Considering this, it’s a bit strange that increased life expectancy typically gets celebrated in media stories.
But you can’t have one without the other.