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Alzheimer's Disease As A Cause Of Death Is Underreported In Arizona

Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth leading cause of death in Arizona. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in Arizona is on the rise — but when a person dies, what ends up on the death certificate doesn’t always reflect the brain disorder they suffered from.

It’s being under reported for a combination of reasons that it might be reported as pneumonia or some other disease that was brought on by Alzheimer’s and a weakening of the immune system, as well as people who live alone or have never been treated.

Wayne Tormela, of the Arizona Department of Health, said 33 people per 100,000 die from Alzheimer’s each year. If those numbers were properly reported, it's safe to say its at least 40, maybe as high as 44, and that would put it as passing pulmonary disease and becoming the third leading cause of death.

For some perspective, heart disease kills 180 people per 100,000 each year, making it the leading cause of death.

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.