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Dementia Replaces COVID as the Leading Cause of Deaths Last Year

Editor's note: We have updated the COVID-19 figures to accurately reflect the 2022 data.

Dementia and Alzheimer's disease was the leading cause of death in England and Wales in 2022, undergoing a 1% increase on the previous year to supplant COVID-19, which had held the number one position in 2021.

There were 577,160 deaths registered in England and Wales in 2022, which was 9174 fewer than in 2021 – a 1.6% decrease. However, last year's figure represented a rise of 6.2% more deaths than the non-pandemic 5-year average of 2016 to 2019, and 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported.

Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's accounted for 11.4% of the total deaths (65,967 deaths registered) in 2022, up from 61,250 (10.4%) in 2021. 

Commenting on the latest statistics, Alzheimer's Research UK said they were a "stark reminder of the terrible and far-reaching effects of dementia". 

The charity recently carried out a survey that suggested two in 10 people were unaware that dementia could lead to death. Its director of policy and public affairs, Samantha Benham-Hermetz, said that "despite its devastating impact, and in contrast with other leading causes of death like heart disease or cancer, there are still no treatments available on the NHS that can slow or stop it." Alzheimer's Research UK called for a renewed effort to find ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat dementia.

Death Registrations for 2022

Deaths from COVID-19 was the sixth leading cause of death for both sexes last year, with 22,454 deaths or 3.9% of all deaths registered. This is compared to 2021 when coronavirus topped the list with 67,350 deaths, or 11.5% of all deaths registered. The top five causes of deaths for all persons were:

  • Dementia and Alzheimer's disease (65,967, or 11.4%)
  • Ischaemic heart diseases (59,356, or 10.3%)
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases (29,815, or 5.2%)
  • Cerebrovascular diseases (29,274, or 5.1%)
  • Malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus, and lung (28,571, or 5%)

However, causes of deaths varied by sex. Among males, the leading cause of deaths last year was ischaemic heart diseases, accounting for 38,730 deaths, or 13.3% of the total. Among females, dementia and Alzheimer's disease occupied the top position, with 42,635 deaths, or 15.0% of all female deaths registered. That pattern was unchanged since 2021, according to the ONS.

The number of deaths was higher for males (292,064) than females (285,096) in 2022, which statisticians said continued a trend seen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 1982 and the pre-pandemic year of 2019, more female deaths than male deaths had been recorded in every year.

Registrations of deaths were lower in 2022 compared with the previous year in most regions of England and Wales with the exception of Yorkshire and the Humber and the South West of England, which saw increases.