How Americans Die

by Dave Schuler on April 17, 2014

As I watched this presentation at Bloomberg on how Americans die, something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about before. I wonder what the long-term economic implications of the significant number of men aged 25-44 who died of AIDS between about 1980 and 1994 will be?

Something sobering but not particularly surprising from the presentation: over the last half dozen years or so there’s been a notable uptick of deaths due to suicide or drug use.

Something else that’s not particularly surprising: the stuff that gets the most attention in the media isn’t necessarily the stuff that’s most important.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

michael reynolds April 17, 2014 at 11:13 am

Very well-done little show. I like that mainstream media are really starting to grasp some of the potential for telling stories on the internet.

1) I wonder how much of the rise of suicide (if any) is a result of a greater willingness to call it what it is. Families will have tried to get doctors to alter the cause of death to avoid the stigma.

2) 40% of Medicare increases are for Alzheimer’s? Shouldn’t we be moving heaven and earth to find a cure? Alzheimer’s is different – it can mean 20 years of moderately high costs vs. heart disease or cancer which can be expensive to treat but generally end treatment relatively quickly.

jan April 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

” the stuff that gets the most attention in the media isn’t necessarily the stuff that’s most important.”

Oftentimes, Dave, the very last paragraph of a given post contains a meaty, thought-provoking nugget of truth. Questioning what the media frequently focuses on — probably, in light of more important stuff going on here or around the world — exemplifies said characteristic, IMO.

Sometimes, it seems the media’s primary purpose has drifted over to being more of a distraction tool, rather than as an impartial one, let alone as an investigative one.

steve April 17, 2014 at 9:01 pm

michael- The drug companies are looking. Not much luck. Until then, we are atr least looking at ways to mitigate the effects, and try not to push people into being non-functional earlier. We are staring a comprehensive program for older people needing surgery. They get a total assessment ahead of time. We are altering the way we care for them based upon that assessment. If the risks are too high for prolonged disability, we are even going to consider not having surgery. (People not in the medical field will have no idea what an impact that last sentence presents.)


michael reynolds April 17, 2014 at 9:16 pm


My wife and I have a couple of parents between us looking at symptoms that may or may not be Alzheimers, but are definitely cognitive impairment. Fortunately my dad has an army pension and COBRA and a youngish wife who is a saint. My wife’s parents. . . well, we don’t know.

Tough way to die because it’s basically a transfer of the pain onto the supporting family which is the very last thing any decent person wants to do. I think I’d rather have cancer and float away on a morphine wave, rather than take 20 years destroying my family’s lives. Tough, tough stuff.

I’ll be 60 in a couple of months and as a soon-to-be elderly man I support the idea of assessing me for long-term prospects before recommending surgery. We all die. 100% of us. We need to stop pretending otherwise and stop insisting on hanging on desperately, painfully, whatever the cost and the downside. Life is a book you write and it needs an ending.

mike shupp April 17, 2014 at 9:41 pm

There’s a chart at Wikipedia, showing AIDS deaths in the US from 1961 to 1997. Numbers run from abou 16,000 in 1981 to a peak of 42,000 in 1995.

Ballpark, it looks like 500,000 deaths. Which is a lot, especially when we reflect it mostly slew young men approaching or at their peak earnings years, but it’s comparable to automobile accidents. Put another way, that’s about 1/3 of a percent of the American workforce, or about two months of good employment gains.

It’s expensive to treat AIDS, and probably had some measureable effect on heath care costs. But in terms of lost output because of a reduced workforce, the impact was not very great.

jan April 17, 2014 at 11:05 pm

There is a lot of research going on looking for either a cure or at least an abatement of Alzheimer dehabilitating symptoms. There has even been a buzz of a vaccine. One of the latest studies, though, I’ve scanned involves using modified stem cells on mice (of course) which would produce some kind of chemical/enzyme that would be able to break down the plaque thought to cause Alzheimer. I wish I had book marked that article.

With the baby boomers all getting older at once, there is certainly an impetus to get a handle on some of these age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s as well as macular degeneration.

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