Causes of Death: Overview

Table 2 below presents the actual number of deaths by leading causes for different age groups of Alaska Native older adults. Although unintentional injuries is the leading cause of death for the Alaska Area there is decrease in deaths attributed to unintentional injuries as one ages. The other top four causes of death are comparable to the Caucasian older population in Alaska and the continental US. The major cause of death in the 55-64 age group is cancer followed by heart disease and injury. In the 75+ age group, the leading cause shifts to heart disease, and injury drops below Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cerebrovascular diseases, and pneumonia.

Reports indicate that Alaska Native people have a higher prevalence of risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and excess weight (DHSS 2001). The COPD death rate in Alaska Natives is almost double the rate for Whites. Furthermore, Healthy Alaskans 2010 states that in addition to being one of the 10 leading conditions related to restricted activity, COPD usually results in years of disability before causing death. Increased levels of disability can also be found in individuals experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

Table 2: Leading Causes and Number of Deathsby Age Group: 1989-1998

Cause

55-64

65-74

75+

Total

Cancer 256 296 293 845
Heart Disease 151 234 423 808
Unintentional Injuries 67 35 39 141
COPD 43 67 111 221
Cerebrovascular Diseases 36 39 147 222
Chronic Liver Disease 34 13 3 50
Pneumonia & Influenza 17 22 89 128
Diabetes Mellitus 15 23 35 73
Suicide 13 5 0 18
Homicide & Legal Intervention 7 4 1 12
All Other Causes 139 180 363 682

Total

778

918

1504

3200

Source: Lanier, et al. 2002. Alaska Native Mortality 1979 – 1998.