Prognosis and Average Life Expectancy for Alzheimer's

Answers to Common Questions on Prognosis and Life Expectancy of Alzheimer's

Life Expectation in Alzheimer's Disease
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Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It's also a fatal condition, which means that a person will eventually die of Alzheimer's disease if he or she does not die of something else beforehand. 

Although learning about the prognosis and life expectancy in Alzheimer's can be disheartening, it can also help you to be knowledgeable about what to expect and how to plan ahead if you or a loved one are diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Is There a Cure for Alzheimer's Disease?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, there are a handful of FDA-approved medications to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer' disease. While these medications do not cure Alzheimer's, they may delay the progression of symptoms in some people for a limited amount of time. There is also no medication or other therapy that can prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease at this time, but researchers continue to work toward this goal.

Is Quality of Life Possible in Alzheimer's Disease?

Despite this grim long-term prognosis, it is possible for many people with Alzheimer's to enjoy their life in the meantime. Visits from family and friends, physical exercise, favorite music recordings, time with young children and meaningful activities have all been identified by people with dementia as ways to improve their quality of life. 

What is the Average Life Expectancy for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease?

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the average life expectancy for a person age 65 years or older diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease is about four to eight years after a diagnosis is made.

 However, some individuals with Alzheimer's live up to 20 years after the first signs emerge.

How long a person with Alzheimer's lives is highly dependent on the person's age at the onset of the disease—meaning the older the age of diagnosis, the fewer years they likely have to live. So, for example, according to a study in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, a person diagnosed with Alzheimer's in their 90's can expect to live three years or less.

Some research in those with dementia has shown that women and persons with at least a college-level education have a longer life expectancy.

Having other health conditions, in addition to Alzheimer's, also affects a person's life expectancy. Those with multiple medical conditions tend to die sooner than those who have no other health conditions.

Overall, though, it's still difficult for doctors to predict exactly how long a person with Alzheimer's has to live since so many variables contribute to life expectancy. Regardless, it's important to understand that with time, a person with Alzheimer's disease will continue to develop more symptoms, and their condition will worsen, not get better.

How do People with Alzheimer's Disease Die?

People with Alzheimer's disease often die of a medical complication, such as pneumonia or the flu. However, Alzheimer's is fatal. If there are no other complications, the person will die when all bodily systems fail because of the disease.

Planning Ahead

Whether you are a caretaker, loved one, or patient, it's a good idea to discuss expected survival time with your doctor and healthcare team. While a difficult discussion, this can help with planning and creating reasonable expectations.

As you plan for the future, it is helpful to consider the different legal and financial decisions in Alzheimer's disease, as well as care and treatment options. You will likely want to ensure that the following documents are developed: power of attorney for healthcare, durable financial power of attorney and a living will, which spells out your preferences for treatment decisions that may arise in the future. These documents can help ensure that your choices and directives are honored by allowing you to specify who will make these decisions if you are not able, and to clearly state what you do and don't desire in terms of treatment.

A Word from Verywell

It's important to remember that your doctor can only make an informed prediction on life expectancy and prognosis in Alzheimer's. This prediction is an educated guess and not a hard and fast rule, but it can be helpful in preparing for the future.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. (2017). 2017 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures

Alzheimer's Association. (2015). Stages of Alzheimer's

Tom, S., Hubbard, R., Crane, P., Haneuse, S., Bowen, J., McCormick, W., McCurry, S. and  (2015). Characterization of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in an Older Population: Updated Incidence and Life Expectancy With and Without Dementia. American Journal of Public Health, 105(2), pp.408-413.  10.2105/AJPH.2014.301935

Zanetti O, Solerte SB & Cantoni F. Life expectancy in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2009;49 Suppl 1:237-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19836639​

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