5 Things You Didn’t Know About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's disease An estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer's dementia in 2018, yet there’s still a lot that’s misunderstood about the disease. Some people still incorrectly believe that silver dental fillings and flu shots increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They don’t. Others only associate Alzheimer's with memory loss, when, in fact, it’s a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die.

It’s dangerous to repeat misconceptions about Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, educate yourself so you can show support for people living with the disease. Here are five things you didn’t know about Alzheimer’s.

It Could Take 20 or More Years Before Brain Changes & Symptoms Appear

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. Other warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s include confusion with time or place, new problems with words in speaking or writing, changes in mood and personality, and challenges in planning or solving problems.

Research suggests that the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s may begin 20 or more years before symptoms appear. When the initial changes occur, the brain compensates for them, enabling individuals to continue to function normally.  As neuronal damage increases, the brain can no longer compensate for the changes, and individuals show subtle cognitive decline. Later, neuronal damage is so significant that individuals show obvious cognitive decline, including the symptoms mentioned above. Later still, basic bodily functions such as swallowing are impaired. 

Every 65 Seconds Someone in the U.S. Develops Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Because the baby boom generation has begun to reach age 65 and older and the number of Americans surviving into their 80s, 90s and beyond is growing dramatically, so too will the numbers of new and existing cases of Alzheimer’s dementia. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia may grow from 5.5 million to a projected 13.8 million, and 7 million people age 85 and older are projected to have Alzheimer’s dementia, accounting for half (51 percent) of all people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia.

1 in 3 Seniors Dies from Alzheimer's or Other Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is officially listed as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and it is the fifth-leading cause of death for those age 65 and older. Studies indicate that people age 65 and older survive an average of four to eight years after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia, yet some live as long as 20 years, which reflects the slow progression of the disease.

Of the total number of years that individuals live with Alzheimer’s, they will spend an average of 40 percent of this time in the disease’s most severe stage. Much of the time will be spent in

a nursing home or memory care community. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, at age 80, approximately 75 percent of people living with Alzheimer’s dementia are expected to be in a nursing home compared with only 4 percent of the general population at age 80.

18.4 Billion Hours of Care Are Provided by Unpaid Caregivers

In 2017, caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias provided an estimated 18.4 billion hours of unpaid assistance, a contribution to the nation valued at $232.1 billion. The care provided to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is wide-ranging and in some instances all-encompassing. The most common types of care provided include helping with activities of daily living, helping the person take medications correctly, managing behavioral symptoms of the disease, making arrangements for care, and finding and using support services. When a person with Alzheimer’s moves to an assisted living community, the help provided by their family caregiver usually changes from comprehensive care to providing emotional support and advocating for appropriate care.

Early and Accurate Diagnosis Could Save Up to $7.9 Trillion in Medical and Care Costs

If you notice any of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don't ignore them. With early detection, you can get the maximum benefits from available treatments, have more time to plan for the future, and take advantage of the care and support services for you and your loved ones. Additionally, diagnosis of individuals earlier in the symptomatic stages could result in a reduction in health care costs at both the individual and national levels. According to the 2018 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report, early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's could save up to $7.9 trillion in Medicare savings, Medicaid savings and other savings, such as out-of-pocket expenses and private insurance.

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