The deadly surge of Alzheimer’s disease across America over the past 20 years has been laid bare in a series of interactive maps.
Deaths have soared 168%, according to official figures, from around 44,000 deaths a year in 1999 to 120,000 in 2021, the latest available date.
An aging population and the rise of sedentary lifestyles and poor diets are all responsible for the rise in numbers.
Every state bar has seen an increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease in the two decades through 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mississippi saw the largest increase in its death rate, tripling from 13.3 to 52.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Only Maine saw a decline, with a rate down 7% over the same period.
State with largest increase in Alzheimer’s disease deaths, 1999 to 2021
- Mississippi (+297%)
- Arkansas (+191%)
- Alabama (+162%)
- Hawaii (+154%)
- Louisiana (+140%)
- California (+138%)
- Georgia (+137%)
- West Virginia (+136%)
- Utah (+135%)
- Oklahoma (+134%)
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
State with smallest increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease, 1999 to 2021
- Maine (-7%)
- New Hampshire (+1%)
- Maryland (+4%)
- Massachusetts (+7%)
- Montana (+16%)
- Colorado (+33%)
- Kansas (+36%)
- Wyoming (+37%)
- Florida (+37%)
- Arizona (+47%)
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Four of the top five rising states are in the South: Arkansas (up 191%), Alabama (162%) and Louisiana (up 140%).
Hawaii (154.3%) was the only state in the top five that was not in the South.
Southern states have historically been less affluent than their northern neighbors and have higher obesity and diabetes rates, which increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
In Hawaii, the rise was blamed on its growing elderly population.
The state’s cost of living – which was ranked the least affordable for retirement last year – may also be a factor as it leaves people less likely to have health insurance.
Only Maine saw a drop in its Alzheimer’s rate over the two decades, dropping nearly eight percent from 29.6 to 27.4 per 100,000 people.
It was not clear why this was the case.
But California-based research organization RAND Corporation has previously suggested that higher levels of education, falling smoking rates and better treatment of cardiovascular disease in developed countries could lower dementia rates.
It is also possible that it is a report problem.
At the other end of the scale were New Hampshire (up just 1.3% in two decades), Maryland (up 4.5%), Massachusetts (up 7.3% ) and Montana (up 16%).
Lower death rates from Alzheimer’s disease were also linked to higher living standards, wealth and healthier lifestyles in the states.
Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating disease that gradually robs a person of their memory and personality.
Early warning signs may include poor parking, swearing more often than normal, dressing sloppy, and giving away free money.
But in later stages, sufferers may have trouble forming sentences, communicating with others, or remembering recent events.
Billions have been invested in researching the disease, but doctors have yet to find drugs that can cure the disease – or even what causes it.
The graph above shows how the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease has increased in the United States. This may be related to more older people living longer
Doctors had previously suggested this was due to a buildup of protein tangles in the brain affecting communication between brain cells.
But more recent research has also suggested damage to blood vessels in the brain may be a factor.
Doctors say the best way to avoid Alzheimer’s disease is to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
The latest slice of CDC data for 2021 reveals that Mississippi – which has the fastest death rate from Alzheimer’s – currently has the highest death rate in the United States at 52.8 deaths per 100,000 population.
Alabama (46.8), Washington (45.5), Georgia (44.5) and Arkansas (43.2) round out the top five.
At the other end of the scale were mostly much wealthier northern states.
New York had the lowest Alzheimer’s death rate (13.6) in the country, less than a quarter of the rate of the hardest-hit state.
It was followed by Maryland (16.1), Massachusetts (17.7), Florida (19.6) and New Jersey (20.6).
Florida may be so low on the scales due to its status as a “retirement mecca” for older Americans, which has boosted access to care in the state.
Separate research conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association revealed the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease by state.
At the top of the chart is California, which is also America’s most populous state and one of the top three destinations for older Americans.
Florida (580,000 people), New York (410,000), Texas (400,000) and Pennsylvania (280,000) round out the top five for Alzheimer’s patients.
These states all have larger elderly populations and growing elderly populations, which may explain their larger population of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
At the other end of the scale were Alaska (8,500), Wyoming (10,000), Vermont (13,000), North Dakota (15,000) and South Dakota (18,000) .
All of these states are also the bottom five least populated states in the United States, which explains their low numbers of disease cases.
In terms of states expecting the fastest growth in the number of Alzheimer’s patients, Arizona led the pack, where they were expected to increase 33.3% in five years.
Dr. Terri Spitz, executive director of the Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said this was due to more older Americans moving to the state.
She told AZCentral: “Baby boomers are becoming seniors. This is such a critical question. This is a public health crisis in our state.
Also on the list were Vermont (up 30.8% in five years), Nevada (up 30.6%), Wyoming (up 30%) and Alaska (up 29 .4%).