Dementia patient
A husband taking care of his wife who is diagnosed with dementia. Reuters/Issei Kato

The latest report from the Office of National Statistics reveals that over 61,000 people died of dementia last year, making the chronic mental disorder the leading cause of death in England and Wales. Given the new statistics, dementia — including Alzheimer’s disease — has now surpassed heart disease as the common cause of death in the ageing population.

The new report also indicates that dementia accounts for 11.6 percent of recorded deaths in 2015, and this is due to the fact that people now live longer, making them more prone to develop diseases aside from ischemic heart diseases, which now account for 11.5 percent of registered deaths.

Comparing the data collected from male and female deaths registered in 2015, heart disease remains to be the leading cause of death among men though the percentage has dropped from 14.8 percent in 2014 to 14.3 percent in 2015. On the other hand, dementia and Alzheimer’s now account for 15.2 percent of deaths among women — a big jump from the 13.4 percentage documented a year before.

“In 2015, dementia and Alzheimer's disease became the leading cause of death in part because people are simply living longer but also because of improved detection and diagnosis,” Office for National Statistics statistician Elizabeth McLaren said. “An updating of the international rules for determining the underlying cause of death is also a factor, with the increase in cases attributed to these conditions accompanied by falls in other causes.”

At present, around 850,000 people residing in the U.K. have dementia, which primarily causes memory loss and the loss of practical abilities. Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Hilary Evans told the BBC that the new statistics just proves that nobody can escape the effects of dementia. ”Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing, it's caused by diseases that can be fought through research, and we must bring all our efforts to bear on what is now our greatest medical challenge,” Evans added.

Meanwhile, aside from dementia, cancer — when all of its types are taken as a group — also remains to be one of the common causes of death. Among the different types, breast cancer is still considered the biggest killer among women aged 35 to 49.