A large proportion of dementia deaths in England and Wales may be due to socioeconomic deprivation, a new study has suggested.
Researchers also found that socioeconomic deprivation was associated with younger age at death with dementia, and poorer access to accurate diagnosis.
Dementia is the leading cause of death in England and Wales, and is the only disease in the top ten causes of death without effective treatment.
The research led by Queen Mary University of London examined Office for National Statistics mortality data for England and Wales, and found that in 2017 14,837 excess dementia deaths were attributable to deprivation – equivalent to 21.5% of all dementia deaths that year.
According to the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the effect of this association appears to be increasing over time.
Corresponding author Dr Charles Marshall, from Queen Mary University of London, whose work is funded by Barts Charity, said: “Understanding how we might prevent dementia deaths is especially important.
“Persistent and widening socioeconomic inequality might be having an unrecognised impact on brain health.
“Addressing this inequality could be an important strategy to help stem the rising tide of dementia.”
Researchers have hypothesised various factors for the relationship between dementia and socioeconomic deprivation.
These include education, diet, vascular risk factors, stress and access to healthcare.
It is likely that poorer quality of diagnosis in more deprived patients means they are being disadvantaged in terms of prognosis, counselling, planning of future care, access to appropriate symptomatic treatments and opportunities to participate in research.
Although a direct causal relationship between socioeconomic status and dementia has yet to be established, the researchers say deprivation could be a major target in public health approaches aimed at reducing the population burden of dementia.
The study has a number of limitations including that it is an observational study, meaning a causal link between deprivation and dementia cannot be confirmed.
There is also a lack of detail on specific dementia subtypes within the ONS data which is likely to lead to incomplete ascertainment of dementia cases.