Thursday, May 19, 2016

Washington state's top cause of death compared to the rest of the U.S. is...

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 12:01 PM

A recent report analyzing cause of death data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that Washington residents are a lot more likely to die from Alzheimer's Disease than people in any other state.

Looking at data from 2014, the analysis by Pew Charitable Trust's data journalism branch Stateline examines the disparate causes of death in each state that are seen at rates much higher than national averages. Top causes of death are similar for most states (like cancer and heart disease), but in some, along with distinct geographical regions of the U.S., the report found that several stand out as unusually high. The report points out that while some of the causes are explainable — like drug overdoses in New England and Appalachia — others are more puzzling. Washington's high rate of Alzheimer's-related deaths is one that has experts scratching their heads. 

It's the third-leading cause of death in the state, behind cancer and heart disease, occurring at a rate of 43.6 per 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of 25.4. 

Here's an interactive map from the report showing the top causes of death by state:

In our Northwest neighbors, death from alcoholic liver disease is higher than national averages in Oregon, and suicide is a high-rate killer in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. 

Some states — like New Mexico, which has a high rate of liver disease — have responded to these specific high rates of death by launching public health campaigns in an attempt to bring numbers down. 

But in Washington, where the high rate of Alzheimer's is still quite puzzling, health officials have had a harder time pinpointing why that is so. Better data reporting could be one factor influencing the higher numbers here compared to other states. A PBS Newshour story looking at the Stateline analysis mentions that Washington state has a more rigorous method of collecting and verifying death data than others. Another factor could be the different codes being used from state to state to report causes of death. Also muddling the picture are suspected data-recording errors. 

Still, Washington launched a plan last year to address the high rate of Alzheimer's deaths, which have continued to rise while deaths from cancer and heart disease have meanwhile declined. That plan also notes that other states probably aren't seeing drastically low rates of Alzheimer's deaths compared to Washington, but that related cause of death might not be listed as Alzheimer's in official records. Instead, another cause of death, like pneumonia, is recorded even though pneumonia may have been be a direct complication to an Alzheimer's diagnoses.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated atherosclerosis as the unique top cause of death for residents in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's Associate Editor, overseeing and contributing to the paper's arts and culture sections, including food and events. Chey (pronounced "Shay") is a lifelong resident of the Spokane area and a graduate of Washington State University. She's been on staff at the Inlander since 2012...