Background: Investigations on cause of death may provide valuable information about life expectancy and on conditions of terminal dementia care, which perhaps can be ameliorated.
Methods: The autopsy reports were studied on all patients (n = 524; 55.3% females; median age 80 years) with a clinically and neuropathologically diagnosed dementia disorder who underwent a complete autopsy at the University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, during 1974-2004.
Results: The two most common causes of death were bronchopneumonia (38.4%) and ischaemic heart disease (23.1%), whilst neoplastic diseases were uncommon (3.8%). In a general population of elderly studied for comparison, bronchopneumonia accounted for 2.8%, ischaemic heart disease for 22.0%, and neoplasm for 21.3% of the deaths. Amongst the demented patients, circulatory and respiratory system diseases were the causes of death in 23.2% and 55.5% of the Alzheimer patients, respectively, whilst the corresponding figures were 54.8% and 33.1% for the patients with vascular dementia.
Conclusions: In patients with dementia, pneumonia as the immediate cause of death may reflect a terminal stage in which patient care and feeding is difficult to manage well. Knowledge about what actually causes death is of value in the terminal care of patients with dementia disorders.