The Facts About Alzheimer's: Life Expectancy and Long-Term Outlook

Life Expectancy and Long-Term Outlook for Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disorder. The disease breaks down and destroys brain cells and the neurons that connect brain cells to one another. This damage causes a decline in memory, behavior, and mental capabilities. 

Every person’s journey with AD is different. For some, the disease progresses slowly and leaves mental function largely intact for several years. Other times, AD is aggressive and quickly robs people of their memory. In the end, AD becomes severe enough to disrupt day-to-day life. In later stages, people will need almost constant care.

AD is the most common cause of dementia in America today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 million Americans have AD. Researchers and scientists have been studying the disease for decades, but there is no cure at this time. 

Quality of life becomes increasingly important for people with AD and their caretakers once a diagnosis is made.

What is the average life expectancy?

Life expectancy varies for each person with AD. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is eight to 10 years. In some cases, however, it can be as short as three years or as long as 20 years. 

AD can go undiagnosed for several years, too. In fact, the average length of time between when symptoms begin and when an AD diagnosis is made is 2.8 years.

How much time can treatment add?

Treatment will not prevent the progression of AD. It is also unclear if treatment can add time to a person’s life. Ultimately, AD will progress and take its toll on the brain and body. As it progresses, symptoms and side effects will get worse. 

However, a few medications may be able to slow the progression of AD at least for a short time. Treatment can also improve your quality of life and help treat symptoms. Talk with your doctor about your treatment options. 

What factors affect longevity?

A study identified several factors that affect a person’s life expectancy. These include:

  • Gender: A 2004 study found that men lived an average of 4.2 years after their initial diagnosis. Women were found to live an average of 5.7 years after their diagnosis.
  • Severity of symptoms: People with significant motor impairment, such as a history of falls and a tendency to wander or walk away, had shorter life expectancies.
  • Brain abnormalities: The study also detected a connection between brain and spinal cord abnormalities and the length of life.
  • Other health problems: People with heart disease, a history of heart attack, or diabetes had shorter lifespans than patients without these complicating health factors.

What does age have to do with it?

The age you are diagnosed with AD may have the greatest impact on your life expectancy. The earlier you are diagnosed, the longer you may live. Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have discovered that the average survival time for people diagnosed at age 65 is 8.3 years. The average life expectancy for people diagnosed at age 90 is 3.4 years.

Each person’s journey is different

Each person has a unique health history. This health history is directly related to how AD will affect them. It’s helpful, however, to know the statistics about average life expectancy, as well as how lifestyle and age can alter that length of time. 

If you are a caretaker or were recently diagnosed with AD, you can find empowerment and courage in knowing how the condition tends to progress. This allows you to plan with your family and caretakers. 

What you can do right now

Talk with your doctor about how your risk factors and lifestyle may affect your life expectancy. Work with your doctor to find the best treatments and lifestyle changes for you. 

If you are a caretaker for a person with AD, work with their doctor to learn about the treatments and lifestyle changes that may help slow the progression. Alzheimer’s disease is not curable, but there are measures you can take to ease its toll. 

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