DEMENTIA and Alzheimer’s disease are now established as the leading cause of death for women in Scotland, overtaking heart disease, according to official figures.

The National Records of Scotland said dementia and Alzheimer’s claimed the lives of 4,384 women in 2017, compared to 2,693 deaths from heart disease.

It was the fifth year in a row that dementia was the biggest killer, confirming the pattern.

Coronary heart disease remains the biggest killer of men, followed by dementia.

The NRS annual review of demographic trends also found Scotland’s population reached a record 5.42 million last year thanks to migration, most of it from within the UK.

With the number of deaths exceeding births, all population growth for the next 25 years is now predicated on migration, with a forecast population of 5.69 million by 2041.

However this figure could be much lower if Brexit lowers migration from the EU.

Life expectancy is now about 81.2 years for women and 77.1 years for men.

Poverty is key to life expectancy, with men living in the most affluent 10 per cent of Scotland expected to live 12.6 years longer than those in the most deprived areas.

The life expectancy gap for women is 9.2 years.

Based on current trends, the number of over-75s in Scotland is due to grow by 79% by 2041, while the working age population stays roughly static, putting a strain on public services.

With women living longer than men on average, diseases of old age such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are increasingly prevalent.

For the first time, the NRS highlighted a difference in dementia deaths between the sexes.

In 2000, dementia and Alzheimer’s did not even feature in the five most common causes of death.

However in 2017, while ischaemic heart disease remained the top killer overall (11.6% of all deaths) and among men (14.3% of male deaths), dementia and Alzheimer’s were the leading cause of death among women (14.8% of female deaths).

The 2017 figure confirmed a five-year trend that started in 2013.
The other leading causes of death were lung cancer, cerebrovascular disease and chronic lower respiratory disease, which covers chronic 
bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

Overall, there were 57,883 deaths in Scotland in 2017, with cancers of all types accounting for 16,207 deaths (28%). Lung cancer was the most deadly, claiming 4,069 lives.

Prostate cancer was the second biggest killer among men, breast cancer for women, and bowel cancer was the third biggest killer among cancers for both sexes.

Charities said the dementia figures should be a wake-up call for the Scottish Government.

Lindsay Kinnaird, Research Manager from Alzheimer Scotland, said: “Dementia is Scotland’s most pressing public health issue, with this population data release further underlying the importance of coordinated action.

“This increase in the number of deaths attributed to dementia highlights the important role of diagnosis to ensure that people with dementia receive coordinated care, support and treatment throughout the course of the illness.  

“Dementia is a complex condition that requires specialist support for those providing day-to-day care, particularly as the illness advances and at end-of-life.

“This is once again a stark reminder that dementia is a public health priority.”

Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland said: “The number of people living with dementia over the next 20 years will increase by 50 per cent to over 120,000.

“The older a person gets, the more likely they are to develop dementia and as women on average have a longer life expectancy, they are more likely to be impacted by it.

“Beyond these figures, the impact dementia has on women is profound.

“Women make up the largest group of unpaid carers in our society which has a significant negative impact on their personal finances in later life.  

“Dementia is currently incurable, and while developments in treatment are happening more frequently, the critical challenge for the Scottish Government is how to better prevent dementia and to improve the quality of life of those living with it and their carers.

“This is an opportunity for the new set of health ministers to evaluate how effective their current dementia strategy is and look at how it impacts on a wide range of other government responsibilities, ensuring that housing, transport and communities are dementia friendly so that Scotland can be better prepared for the future.”  

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar added: “These figures reveal yet again the challenges Scotland faces in terms of an ageing population.

“While more people living longer is a good thing, it will also put a greater strain on public services, particularly health and social care which are already under pressure.

“Also evident is the impact of Scotland’s health inequalities, with people from the most deprived areas facing shorter life expectancies and a greater burden of disease.

“That is why it is vital we use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to seriously tackle poverty and inequality, as well as invest in our lifeline services now to ensure they have the resources needed to deal with continually increasing demand.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser added: “These dramatic demographic changes will obviously have significant implications for public policy, administration and our public finances.

“It is absolutely imperative that the SNP takes these projections into consideration when planning the future structure of our public services and taxation.

“Nowhere is this more important than our NHS, which is already straining under the pressure of increased demand, with things only set to get worse.

“Once again this shows that the SNP must implement a competitive tax policy to make Scotland an attractive destination for employers and employees alike.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ““Life expectancy in Scotland is at a record high, but our growing and ageing population creates its own challenges, with issues such as heart disease, strokes, and dementia more common. We are committed to delivering person-centred care for everyone in Scotland.”