CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The number of deaths associated with Alzheimer's disease has increased by 66 percent in the past decade and it has jumped to the No. 6 leading cause of death in the United States, according to a new study by the national Alzheimer's Association.
The debilitating disease that attacks the brain is the nation's only top 10 cause of death that has seen an increase from 2000 to 2008, according to the report released earlier this week.
The death rate associated with stroke has decreased 20 percent across the nation; prostate cancer is down 8 percent; breast cancer 3 percent; heart disease 13 percent; and HIV down 29 percent, the report states.
"Alzheimer's is the only one of the 10 top causes of death, where we have no way right now or information on how to prevent, or delay or how to cure it," said Jane Marks, director of the Alzheimer's Association's West Virginia chapter.
"It is pretty staggering," Marks said. "That's why we continue to say this is not a disease that we can continue to ignore anymore."
In West Virginia, the number of residents with Alzheimer's is expected to increase by 25 percent within the next 15 years, and affect more than 50,000 people over the age of 65, according to the national report.
The disease is currently the No. 5 leading cause of death in the state, and affects about 48,000 residents, Marks said. Nationally, Alzheimer's had been the No. 7 leading cause of death as of 2006.
It's not just residents with Alzheimer's whose health is at risk, Marks said. The family and friends who become the primary caregivers to these individuals are 63 percent more likely to die before their peers, she said.
The emotional, physical and financial stress placed on these individuals is "staggering," she said.
In 2010, there were about 105,464 unpaid caregivers to individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia in West Virginia. They accounted for more than 120 million hours and about $1.4 billion in unpaid care, according to the national report.
More than 60 percent of these caregivers rate their emotional stress as high or very high, and 33 percent have reported symptoms of depression, the report states.