What Is the Life Expectancy for Alzheimer's?

Reviewed on 5/13/2022

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People with Alzheimer's disease generally live four to eight years after diagnosis, but many can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have a shorter life expectancy than people who do not have the disease.

  • People with Alzheimer's disease generally live four to eight years after diagnosis, but many can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors. 
  • Once a person reaches the final stage of Alzheimer’s, life expectancy is only one to two years.

What Is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which refers to a group of brain disorders that cause problems with thinking, reasoning, judgment, and memory.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that usually starts with mild memory loss and can eventually lead to problems severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily activities and independence.

What Are Symptoms of Alzheimer's?

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s are usually mild to start, and slowly and progressively worsen.  

Early symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s disease may include:

  • Forgetfulness/memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Problems with reasoning
  • Losing things
  • Repeating questions
  • Problems with language, such as being unable to find the right words for things
  • Difficulty with everyday tasks such as paying bills or balancing a checkbook
  • Wandering and getting lost in familiar places
  • Poor judgment 
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Increased anxiety and/or aggression

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, symptoms of moderate Alzheimer’s may include:

  • Increased memory loss and confusion 
  • Inability to learn new things 
  • Difficulty with language and problems reading, writing, and working with numbers 
  • Problems with logical thinking
  • Inability to recognize family and friends 
  • Shortened attention span 
  • Difficulty coping with new situations 
  • Episodes of anger or aggression
  • Depression 
  • Difficulty performing tasks that require several steps, such as getting dressed 
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, wandering 
  • Repeating words or movements, muscle twitches
  • Loss of interest in surroundings (apathy)
  • Seeing things that aren't there (hallucinations)
  • Believing things that aren't true (delusions)
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation

Symptoms of severe Alzheimer’s disease may include:

How Is Alzheimer's Diagnosed?

Alzheimer’s disease is usually diagnosed based on a patient’s history and symptoms, along with information provided by family members. 

Memory and other cognitive tests may be administered to assess the degree of difficulty with different types of problems. These tests can be re-administered and monitored over time to detect any decline in function.

Other tests that may help confirm Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, or to rule out other conditions may include:

  • Blood tests to check for: 
    • Chemical or hormonal imbalance 
    • Vitamin deficiency 
  • Brain scans 
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
    • Scans may also help identify the type of dementia, based on certain characteristic brain changes 

Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) may help identify the type of dementia

SLIDESHOW

Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and Aging Brains See Slideshow

What Is the Treatment for Alzheimer's?

There is no single treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and there is currently no cure. 

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease includes:

  • Medications 
    • To help maintain mental function in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease 
    • To help maintain mental function in moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease
      • Memantine (Namenda)
      • Memantine and donepezil (Namzaric) 
      • Rivastigmine (Exelon patch)
  • Behavioral therapy to manage behavioral problems
    • Changing the person's environment (e.g., regular exercise, socializing with others, avoiding triggers that cause sadness, engaging in pleasant activities that a person enjoys)
  • To manage depression
  • To manage aggression
    • Determine what triggers aggression and learn strategies to help lessen triggers and confrontations
    • May be treated with therapy or medication, depending on the cause 
  • To manage sleep problems
    • Sleep medicines 
    • Behavior changes such as increasing physical activity, maintaining daily rhythms, limiting daytime naps, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening, using artificial lighting when needed during the day, and avoiding bright light exposures during the night to help maintain normal wake-sleep cycles
  • To manage safety issues
    • People with Alzheimer’s disease often fall and hurt themselves
      • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes
      • Maintain well-lit walkways
      • Hide loose wires or electrical cords
      • Secure loose rugs or use non-skid backing on rugs

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Reviewed on 5/13/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/dementia-including-alzheimer-disease-beyond-the-basics?search=Dementia&source=search_result&selectedTitle=5~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=5

https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet

https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/stages

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how-dementia-progresses/later-stages-dementia