Sunday, January 15, 2006

death causes of, and declining death rates

The leading causes of death after age 45 at this time are: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The per-100,000 population rates of mortality from these diseases now stands at:

Because these illnesses stand as the three main killers, they have been the subjects of intense research and control efforts since the mid-1960s, when government, the medical profession, drug companies, hospitals, universities, and philanthropic foundations that fund biomedical research launched major research and publicity campaigns to control them. With the exception of cancer, the incidence of these diseases has dropped dramatically since the 1960s, the rates having fallen from 307.6 to 188.5 per 100,000 for heart disease, and 88.8 to 34.3 per 100,000 for stroke. Cancer rates have remained stubbornly high, rising from 125.4 in 1950 to 132.3 in the 1980s, partly because the risk of cancer increases as more people reach the advanced years of life, a time when immunity declines severely.
Causes of death that rank behind these three main killers vary somewhat with age. From 45 to 64 accidents stand fourth, with 43 deaths per 100,000, followed by cirrhosis of the liver at 37 per 100,000, and diabetes mellitus with 18 per 100,000. At 65 to 74, diabetes ranks fourth, with 64 per 100,000, then pneumonia with 62 per 100,000, accidents at 61 per 100,000, and cirrhosis at 42 per 100,000. After 75 pneumonia takes over fourth position, at 264 deaths per 100,000, followed by accidents with 166 deaths per 100,000, then diabetes at 162 per 100,000, and, last, emphysema, causing 65 deaths per 100,000.
Overall, death rates have declined markedly in the past 50 to 60 years. Government statistics show, for instance, that in 1960 there were 7,786 deaths for every 100,000 people aged 65-74, but at present death rates for this age group are at 5,706 per 100,000- nearly a 27 percent drop in just 30 years. Although half of all people who enter their 75th year die before they reach 85, the average annual death rate declined 1.1 percent per year for men and 2.0 percent for women between 1940 and 1954. For a time thereafter there was no further reduction, but the decline resumed in the late 1960s, when the rate began to fall 1.5 percent per year for men and 2.3 percent per year for women. Since the 1960s the gains in life expectancy have resulted primarily from more effective control of the three major diseases. People over 65 can now expect to live about six years longer than anyone over that age could expect to live in the I960s . Control of stroke has added another 1.2 years of life, and, in spite of the increased proportion of late life deaths due to cancer, better management and cure of this disease has added another 1.4 years to life expectancy for the average person.
Much still remains to be done-diseases of the heart still remain the main killer. People who reach 65 have a 46 percent chance of eventually dying of heart problems, and the probability of such a death rises 10 times between ages 65 and 85. Studies of accidental deaths show an increasing rate of mortality from this cause as age progresses. Older people actually have fewer accidents than younger people (see ACCIDENTS), but they experience more serious ill effects from this source. In a recent year people 65 and over had only II percent of all accidents in the nation (a percentage about equal to the proportion of older people in the population at the time), but nearly 23% of all fatal accidents occurred to the age group. While people age 1-44 die less frequently from accidents, during the teen years and early adult years accidental death claims the highest proportion of lives-from age 15-24 accidents account for five times as many deaths as the next leading cause. It is probable that continuing reductions in the death rate over the next 50 years will depend as much on changes in lifestyle as on advances in biological and medical research.
Diet, smoking, exercise, and use of drugs and alcohol directly influence health and therefore longevity. All of these factors are under the control of individuals. If those who wish to enjoy a high quality of life and to age successfully actually do modify their lifestyles, then, barring major wars or natural calamities, the decline of the death rate may well bring most people to live to the maximum biological human lifespan-120 years.
Brody, J. A., and Brock, D. B. "Epidemiological and Statistical Characteristics of the United States Elderly Population," in Finch, C. E., and Schneider, E. L., eds. Handbook of the Biology of Aging, 2nd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1985.
Schick, F. L. Statistical Handbook of Aging Americans. Phoenix: The Oryx Press, 1986. Stems, H. L.; Barrett, G. V.; and Alexander, R. A. "Accidents and the Aging Individual," in Birren, J. E., and Schaie, K. W., eds. Handbook of the Psychology of Aging, 2nd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1985.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1989, 109th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.


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