Background Death certificates are crucial for understanding population health trends including the burden of disease mortality. Accurate reporting of causes of death on these records is necessary in order to implement adequate public health policies and fund disease research. While there is evidence that Alzheimer disease and unspecified dementia are prevalent among people with Down syndrome, a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule change instructing that Down syndrome should be reported as the underlying cause of death in instances when death occurred from Alzheimer disease or unspecified dementia threatens the accuracy and the utility of death certificates for this population. Methods This study used 15 years (2005–2019) of US death certificate data for adults with and without Down syndrome. We compare the mortality burden due to Alzheimer disease and unspecified dementia prior to and after amending death certificates that report Down syndrome as the underlying cause of death. Results When analyzing death certificates without addressing the reporting of Down syndrome as the underlying cause of death, rates of death due to Alzheimer disease and dementia ranked as the third leading cause of death for both adults with and without Down syndrome. After amending death certificates that reported Down syndrome as the underlying cause of death, Alzheimer disease and dementia were the leading cause of death among those with Down syndrome, occurring 2.7 times more in adults with compared to without Down syndrome. Conclusion The findings of this study highlight the importance of accurate mortality data for studying and addressing population health trends. The current practice of reporting Down syndrome as the underlying cause of death rather than the disease responsible for death needs to be reconsidered and modified. If not, people with Down syndrome may be further marginalized within dementia related support and research.
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