2015 saw the largest spike of deaths “in over a decade” in England and Wales
A combination of dementia and Alzheimer’s related deaths as well as respiratory diseases like flu amongst older people caused the biggest increase in deaths in over a decade according to the office for National Statistics.
The particular flu virus, A(H3N2), that caused these deaths is known to predominantly affect older people. The ONS say there is evidence the flu vaccine was less effective this year, and that there were a number of outbreaks in care homes, admissions to hospital and intensive care for flu higher than recent seasons.
The peak in influenza admissions to intensive care occurred in January, however deaths remained close to the five year average for the first weeks of 2016.
Last year saw 529,613 registered deaths in England and Wales, up 5.6% with 2014, with the vast majority (86%) of those deaths occurring in those over 75. 38% of those were over 90.
Analysis of weekly and monthly releases on deaths by the ONS with Public Health England also suggest that life expectancy at birth would fall by 0.2 years to 79.3 years for boys and by 0.3 years to 82.9 years for girls if mortality rates remain the same as they were in 2015.
Claudia Wells, Head of Mortality Analysis at ONS, said: “The majority of the increase in deaths in 2015 happened during the first few months of the year, coinciding with an increase in hospital admissions for flu and reports of numerous outbreaks of the virus in care homes. Respiratory diseases, such as flu, were also mentioned in a third of deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s last year”.
“The number of deaths where dementia and Alzheimer’s were listed as the underlying cause have been steadily increasing over the last 15 years, but were well above the 5 year average in 2015.”
Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at Public Health England said: “The population is ageing and we are seeing more people diagnosed and living with illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in later life.
“A range of factors can push up the number of deaths in older people in a particular year. An outbreak of flu can have a big impact, especially on those who are most vulnerable or experiencing other illnesses, such as dementia.
“An increase in deaths will generally lead to a decrease in life expectancy that year, but we have seen these annual fluctuations before and the overall trend has remained positive”.