Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are taking an increasing toll on Australians, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics cause-of-death figures.
But bad habits are possibly the biggest killer, with close to six out of 10 deaths in Australia caused by cancers and cardiovascular disease.
They have similar risk factors, noted the Heart Foundation’s Dr Rob Grenfell, who called for a co-ordinated approach to smoking, poor nutrition, obesity and physical inactivity.
Such an approach would save lives, he said after the release of the figures on Tuesday.
Overall 147,098 people died in Australia in 2012, 166 more than in 2011.
Heart disease remains the leading killer, with 20,046 victims.
However this has fallen steadily since 2003.
Death by suicide reached a 10-year peak of 2535, and remains the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44.
It was the 14th most common cause of death overall.
“These are very troubling numbers,” said Lifeline CEO Jane Hayden.
Overall, people are as likely to die of circulatory system diseases as they are of diseases related to tumours, such as cancer.
“The proportion of deaths due to circulatory diseases has been decreasing, while the deaths from cancer have remained relatively stable,” said Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver.
“This partly reflects the greater success in treating circulatory diseases compared with some types of cancer.”
Dr Grenfell said it’s good news more people with heart disease are surviving, but this means more are living with heart damage and disability.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the third leading causes of death, accounting for 10,369 or seven per cent of all deaths in 2012.
This is up from 4275 deaths in 2003 and 7318 in 2007.
Ninety-five per cent of these occurred in people aged 75 or over.
More people are developing dementia because people are living to an older age, said Dr Chris Hatherly, national research manager at Alzheimer’s Australia.
“It’s a terminal condition, so we expect the number of deaths to increase.”
Another factor in the statistics was more accurate recording of dementia as a cause of death, he said.
For women, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have overtaken cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke as the second leading cause of death. Breast cancer remains the sixth most common killer.
For men, lung cancer remains the second leading cause of death and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the fifth leading causes, replacing prostate cancer, which is now sixth.
The figures show the death rate for indigenous Australians is double that of non-indigenous Australians.
The leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was heart disease followed by diabetes.