Americans Worry About Getting Alzheimer's

Survey Reveals Fears About Alzheimer's, Stroke, Heart Disease, and Other Diseases

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 23, 2011 -- American adults fear getting Alzheimer's disease almost as much as they do getting cancer, a new survey shows.

A survey of 1,007 adults by Harris Interactive for the MetLife Foundation finds that 41% of people fear cancer most, closely followed by Alzheimer's disease at 31%.

The report says 8% fear stroke the most, 8% heart disease the most, and 6% most fear diabetes.

Currently, more than 5 million people have Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to mushroom in coming years with the aging of the baby boom generation.

Though a large number of people fear getting Alzheimer's, 62% of those surveyed say they know little or nothing about it, which may explain why only 18% of adults have developed a plan for care, should they get the disease.

Changing Attitudes About Alzheimer's

The survey shows that since 2006, the percentage of people who fear getting Alzheimer's has increased more than other diseases.

For example, in 2006, 38% of people most feared getting cancer; that went up to 41% in 2010.

Only 20% of people surveyed in 2006 said they most feared getting Alzheimer's, but that jumped to 31% in 2010.

The proportions of people fearing diabetes, stroke, and heart disease the most fell. In 2006, 9% feared diabetes compared to 6% in 2010; 13% were afraid of having a stroke in 2006 vs. 8% in 2010.

For heart disease, 14% feared developing that condition in 2006, but that dropped almost in half to 8% in 2010.

Understanding Alzheimer's

In the 2010 survey, 57% say they know a little about Alzheimer's and 5% nothing at all; 38% said they were quite familiar with it.

In 2006, 67% said they knew a little about Alzheimer's, 26% a lot, and 7% nothing at all.

Though more people fear Alzheimer's disease most than in the past, only 9% in 2010 indicated they were extremely concerned about having to take care of a loved one with the illness, compared to 5% in 2006.

In the 2010 survey, 34% said they weren't concerned at all about having to care for a loved one with Alzheimer's, compared to 36% four years earlier.

The survey also found that:

  • 44% of adults in the U.S. have a family member or friend with Alzheimer's, up from 35% in 2006.
  • Despite the increase in fear of Alzheimer's, only 18% of adults have made plans for the possibility of getting the disease, an increase from 12% in 2007.

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SOURCES: News release, MetLife Foundation.MetLife Foundation Alzheimer's Survey 2010: "What America Thinks."

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