As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult for the person diagnosed and their loved ones. Few medical treatments exist, but there are other therapies and support resources.

Alzheimer’s disease is a primary cause of dementia. In the early stages, there may not be many — if any — symptoms. Short-term memory loss is often the first sign.

Alzheimer’s damages nerve cells in the brain. Over time, as more neurons are damaged, it leads to problems with judgment, language, and thought processes. Eventually, Alzheimer’s affects a person’s ability to function and care for themselves.

It can be upsetting to receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis — for both the person diagnosed and their loved ones.

There’s ongoing research into ways to prevent and manage Alzheimer’s disease. As we learn more about how Alzheimer’s disease develops, we may be able to prevent or slow the progression. There’s also hope that someday a cure can be found.

Here are some key stats and figures about Alzheimer’s disease:

A German doctor named Alois Alzheimer first observed Alzheimer’s disease in 1906. He described a patient known as Auguste D. who had memory loss and other problems with thinking.

After the patient’s death, Dr. Alzheimer noted that parts of the patient’s brain were shrunken. A psychiatrist who worked with Alzheimer named the condition in 1910.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. The term dementia is used to define brain diseases related to memory loss and diminished cognitive skills.

Alzheimer’s disease is probably the most recognized type, but there are other types of dementia.

They include:

  • vascular dementia
  • dementia with Lewy bodies
  • mixed dementia
  • dementia caused by Parkinson’s disease
  • dementia caused by Huntington’s disease

Statistics from 2023 estimate that there are more than 6.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.

The Alzheimer’s Association reported that about 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 die of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified Alzheimer’s as the 7th leading cause of death in the United States in 2021, with 119,399 people dying from Alzheimer’s disease altogether. However, this number may not be entirely accurate since it’s based on only the official cause of death.

Other health conditions are often worsened in a person with Alzheimer’s disease. This can reduce someone’s life expectancy.

Only heart disease, cancer, some respiratory diseases, stroke, and accidents cause more deaths than Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s hard to predict how long someone with Alzheimer’s disease will live. There are so many factors that determine life expectancy after this diagnosis.

The stage of the disease when you receive a diagnosis will affect life expectancy. The progression of Alzheimer’s disease will also vary from person to person.

It’s estimated that people will live an average of 5–8 years after diagnosis. But there are also people who live up to 20 years after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, rates of Alzheimer’s disease are significantly higher in women.

The report, which grouped participants into men and women, estimated that the lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is 1 in 5 for women. For men, the rate is half of that — 1 in 10.

In the United States, there are 4.1 million women and 2.6 million men living with Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the reasons for these higher rates in women is that women tend to live longer. Age is considered the biggest risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Another theory is that women born before 1950 didn’t typically have as much formal education as men. Lower levels of education are associated with higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease seems to progress more quickly in women than it does in men. This may be because women often receive a diagnosis at later stages.

Typically, women have an advantage over men when it comes to memory and recall. It’s possible that changes in memory are not caught as early because they could still be within a “normal” range on standard tests.

There may also be some associations between hormonal changes throughout life and Alzheimer’s disease. Research from 2018 describes a link between having menopause earlier in life and having greater odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s possible that starting hormone replacement therapy earlier in menopause may be helpful to protect the brain. This research isn’t yet conclusive. It’s also worth noting that going through menopause often causes some memory loss, but this often resolves in the postmenopausal period.

According to the 2018 research, people who experienced hypertensive disorders during pregnancy had greater brain shrinkage, even many years later.

Hypertensive disorders include eclampsia, preeclampsia, and HELLP syndrome. Research is still needed to figure out whether hypertensive disorders should be considered a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s also possible that there’s something else at play that puts people at risk of both hypertensive disorders during pregnancy and Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

There’s interesting research on how inflammation in one part of the body can lead to inflammation in other parts.

In Alzheimer’s disease, there’s a buildup of inflammatory proteins in the brain. Many chronic conditions including diabetes and heart disease are also shown to involve inflammation.

Some researchers are looking into links between heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and the development of Alzheimer’s. All are recognized as involving inflammation in different parts of the body.

According to a 2019 research report, a failing heart might “activate or aggravate” a disease in the brain like Alzheimer’s disease.

You can help prevent or manage heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. And this prevention may play a role in preventing or managing Alzheimer’s disease.

Recommendations include:

  • eating an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean way of eating
  • regularly monitoring blood pressure and treating high blood pressure with dietary changes, activity, and medications, as needed
  • quitting or cutting down on smoking if you smoke
  • staying physically active
  • managing cholesterol levels with dietary changes and medications, as needed
  • monitoring blood sugar levels and managing prediabetes or diabetes with dietary changes, physical activity, and medications, as needed

Heart disease may also be a cause of vascular dementia, which results from narrowed blood vessels in the brain. This leads to a decrease in oxygen to brain tissues.

Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may lose their sense of smell. Research suggests that changes in your sense of smell may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s progressing from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s important to note that changes in your ability to smell may also be due to other causes, such as:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • brain injury
  • sinus infection

There’s an association between higher education levels and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. More formal education may shape the brain differently starting from a young age. Learning new things creates more connections between neurons and may make the brain more resistant to damage.

It’s also possible that the higher income that often comes with more education may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s never too late to learn something new and expand your social networks. Doing group activities or having more social contacts may also lower your risk.

Consider the following activities that are especially good for your brain:

  • taking classes
  • learning languages
  • playing musical instruments
  • joining community groups to increase social contact

Rates of Alzheimer’s disease increase with age. In the United States, 5% of people ages 65–74 have Alzheimer’s disease. These rates increase to 13.1% in people between the ages of 75 and 84. Among people ages 85 and up, 33.3% have Alzheimer’s disease.

Like almost all research, research on Alzheimer’s lacks diversity. Participants in studies don’t accurately reflect the diverse population in the United States.

This is an issue for all health conditions, but especially for a condition like Alzheimer’s disease, which may disproportionately affect people of color.

Data shows that 19% of Black people and 14% of Hispanic people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. This is much higher than the 10% of white people over age 65 with Alzheimer’s disease.

Higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease in people of color are not likely due to genetic differences. It’s more likely related to structural racism that creates major barriers to accessing healthcare and increases rates of poverty. Structural racism affects education, income, stress, housing, and exposure to violence.

With more than 6.5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease, the cost of treating the condition continues to rise.

In 2016, the annual cost was about $236 billion. In 2023, the projected amount was $345 billion.

The number of people with the disease is expected to increase in the years ahead. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that Alzheimer’s disease may cost the United States just under $1 trillion by 2050.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and there’s currently no cure. Current research suggests that being born female, having lower education levels, being Black or Hispanic, and living with heart disease are all risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s.

More research is needed to understand Alzheimer’s disease and why it affects certain populations more than others. In future years to come, researchers hope to better identify protective factors for Alzheimer’s and potentially even find a cure.