Alzheimer’s surge across America laid bare: Interactive map reveals rise in Alzheimer’s death rates

The deadly surge of Alzheimer’s across America in the past 20 years has been laid bare in a series of interactive maps.

Fatalites have spiraled 168 percent, official figures show, jumping from about 44,000 deaths a year in 1999 to 120,000 in 2021, the latest date available.

An aging population and the rise of sedentary lifestyles and poor diets are all blamed for the increasing numbers. 

Every state bar one has seen a surge in Alzheimer’s fatalities over the two decades to 2021, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows.

Mississippi has seen the biggest jump in its death rate, up three-fold from 13.3 to 52.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Only Maine saw a drop, with the rate down seven percent over the same period.

State’s with sharpest uptick in Alzheimer’s deaths, 1999 to 2021 

  1. Mississippi (+297%)
  2. Arkansas (+191%)
  3. Alabama (+162%)
  4. Hawaii (+154%)
  5. Louisiana (+140%)
  6. California (+138%)
  7. Georgia (+137%)
  8. West Virginia (+136%)
  9. Utah (+135%)
  10. Oklahoma (+134%) 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

State’s with smallest uptick in Alzheimer’s deaths, 1999 to 2021

  1. Maine (-7%)
  2. New Hampshire (+1%)
  3. Maryland (+4%)
  4. Massachusetts (+7%)
  5. Montana (+16%)
  6. Colorado (+33%)
  7. Kansas (+36%)
  8. Wyoming (+37%)
  9. Florida (+37%)
  10. Arizona (+47%) 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Four of the top five states with the sharpest rise are in the South: Arkansas (up 191 percent), Alabama (162 percent), and Louisiana (up 140 percent). 

Hawaii (154.3 percent) was the only state in the top five that was not in the South.

Southern states have been historically less affluent than their northern neighbors, and have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, which raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In Hawaii, the rise has been blamed on its growing elderly population.

The expense of living in the state — which was ranked as the least affordable for retirment last year — may also be a factor because it leaves people less likely to have health insurance.

Only Maine recorded a fall 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 the California-based research organization the RAND Corporation has previously suggested that higher levels of education, falling smoking rates and better treatment of cardiovascular disease in developed countries could be driving down dementia rates.

There is also the possibility that it is a reporting issue.

At the other end of the scale were New Hampshire (up just 1.3 percent in two decades), Maryland (up 4.5 percent), Massachusetts (up 7.3 percent) and Montana (up 16 percent).

The lower fatality rates from Alzheimer’s were similarly linked to higher standards of living, wealth and healthier lifestyles in the states.

Alzheimer’s is a debilitating condition that gradually robs a sufferer of their memory and personality.

Early warning signs can include parking badly, swearing more often than normal, dressing scruffily and giving out money for free.

But in later stages, sufferers can struggle to form sentences, communicate with others or remember recent events.

Billions have been poured into research into the condition, but doctors are yet to find drugs that can cure the disease — or even what causes it.

The above graph shows how the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease has risen in the United States. This may be linked to more older people living longer

Medics had previously suggested it was due to a build-up 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 could be a factor.

Doctors say that the top way to avoid Alzheimer’s is to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

The latest tranche of CDC data for 2021 reveals that Mississippi — which has the fastest rising death rate from Alzheimer’s — currently has the highest fatality rate in the US at 52.8 fatalities per 100,000 people.

Rounding out the top five are Alabama (46.8), Washington (45.5), Georgia (44.5) and Arkansas (43.2).

At the other end of the scale were mostly much more affluent northern states.

New York had the lowest death rate from Alzheimer’s disease (13.6) in the country — which was less than a quarter of the rate in 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 in the scales because of its status as a ‘retirement Mecca’ for older Americans, which has boosted access to care in the state.

Separate research by the Alzheimer’s Association has revealed how many people with Alzheimer’s disease there are by state.

At the top of the table is California, which is also America’s most populous state and one of the top three destinations for older Americans.

Rounding out the top five for Alzheimer’s patients were Florida (580,000 people), New York (410,000), Texas (400,000) and Pennsylvania (280,000).

These states all have larger older populations and growing elderly populations, which may explain their bigger Alzheimer patient populations.

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 populous in the United States, which explains their low count for the disease.

In terms of states expecting the fastest growth in Alzheimer’s patients, at the front of the pack was Arizona where they are expected to rise 33.3 percent in five years. 

Dr Terri Spitz, the executive director of the Southwest chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said that this was due to more older Americans moving to the state.

She told AZCentral: ‘Baby boomers are becoming seniors. This is such a critical issue. It’s a public health crisis in our state.’

Also on the list were Vermont (up 30.8 percent in five years), Nevada (up 30.6 percent), Wyoming (up 30 percent) and Alaska (up 29.4 percent).