Better healthcare and medical advances mean Israelis are living longer, but dementia and Alzheimer's are claiming more lives, according to a new report by the Health Ministry.
Cancer remains the leading causes of death for both men and women in Israel, but the number of fatalities from dementia and Alzheimer's is growing.
The report, which tracked and detailed all 44,537 fatalities in the country since 2018, showed that while overall mortality is down compared to the same time frame in the previous decade, there has been a recent increase in fatalities from dementia and Alzheimer's.
"While cardiovascular disease used to be far and away the leading cause of death in the West, it no longer tops the list," says Yehuda Adler, professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University.
"This is due to new technological therapies and preventative treatments developed in recent years that have reduced mortality in heart patients by a significant percentage," he says.
In 2018, diabetes was the third leading cause of death, replacing cerebrovascular diseases, which dropped to the fourth place.
According to the report, "this reversal occurred among men in around 2013 and in women in around 2017. The third leading cause of death for women is now dementia, which has surpassed diabetes and cerebrovascular disease."
Almost all causes of death have seen a sharp recent decline. The fatality rate from diabetes and heart and cerebrovascular diseases has dropped by 20% since the last decade. There has also been a significant decline in deaths caused by kidney disease.
On the other hand, fatalities due to dementia, Alzheimer's and sepsis rose between 2016 and 2018. Alzheimer's is not considered a leading cause of death, however, as relatively few Israelis are diagnosed with the disease.
"Dementia and Alzheimer's rates have been rising across the world due to an increasing elderly population," says Prof. David Tanne, the president of the Israel Neurological Association and director of Stroke and Cognition Institute at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa.
"The rates of Alzheimer's and dementia have doubled in Israel in the last 25 years," Tanne says.
"As the population ages, morbidity and mortality rates from these diseases increase. As medical technology allows people to live longer, we see adults more exposed to brain disorders that worsen with age.
"The most important thing is the prevention of cerebrovascular disease by maintaining healthy blood pressure, adhering to a healthy lifestyle and following up on medical events," he says.
In most cases, people suffering from dementia pass away from related complications and infections.
Dr. Amir Glik, head of cognitive neurology at Rabin Medical Center, says that aside from aging, there are other causes of brain degeneration.
"Diabetes, hypertension and smoking are risk factors for Alzheimer's," Glik says. "As long as we fail to control these, instances of the disease will increase. If we do succeed, we can prevent or delay up to a third of cases."
The report also examines non-medical fatalities, citing accidents as the main cause of death in men aged 15-24 and the second highest for women in the same group.
Suicide has been the second leading cause of death for young men aged 15-24 and women aged 25-44.
The data also shows that while the number of fatal accidents has been decreasing in Isra, suicides have continued to rise.