5 Must-Know Facts About Alzheimer's Disease

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  • Currently, more than 5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Experts estimate this number will climb to as many as 16 million by 2050, saying the condition is reaching epidemic proportions. With so many people either living with Alzheimer’s disease or caring for someone with the disease, what should we all know about the condition? Here are 5 must-know facts about Alzheimer’s disease you may not be aware of.

  • 1
    You don’t have to be old to get Alzheimer’s disease.
    working-woman-sitting-at-desk-in-high-rise

    Most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are over 65, but about 5% of people with the disease start showing signs in their 40s and 50s. This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The early-onset variety often runs in families, and genetic testing may show if you are at risk of developing the disease. A genetic counselor can explain the advantages and disadvantages of Alzheimer’s disease genetic testing and help you decide if it’s right for you. Keep in mind that not everyone with Alzheimer’s disease has a family history of it.

  • 2
    More women are affected by Alzheimer’s disease than men.
    Women taking selfies

    Almost two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s disease are women. There are theories about why more women develop the condition. One is women live longer than men on average, and men often die from other causes before they reach the age when they may have developed Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers suspect economic status and education play a role in who gets the disease. Cognitive activities (mental exercises) seem to help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and historically, men were better educated than women, resulting in higher economic status. As the gender balance shifts with current trends, this factor may change over time.

  • 3
    There’s a genetic link between heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
    Generations of men

    The two couldn’t seem more different, but there is a connection between heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers don’t yet understand the relationship between the two, but they suggest that by taking care of your heart, you may also slow down or reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Lifestyle changes like staying active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and keeping a healthy weight are all ways to help take care of your body, both physically and mentally.

  • 4
    Learning new activities may keep your brain healthy.
    Senior women painting

    Whether you choose to learn a new language, play a musical instrument, or return to college to get a degree, using your brain not only keeps you busy, it may also protect you from developing Alzheimer’s disease. Educating yourself and learning new things also has other advantages. By getting you out of the house or active online, you interact with other people and grow your social circle. Having an active social life improves quality of life overall, and reduces the risk of other common problems, such as depression and anxiety.

  • 5
    The life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer’s disease is variable.
    Older man with letter

    Unfortunately, doctors can’t tell you how long someone with Alzheimer’s disease will live or how quickly the different stages will progress. People with Alzheimer’s disease who are physically strong and healthy may live up to 10 years or more after diagnosis, while those who are more frail may develop infections or other health issues that may cause them to decline more rapidly. This variability makes it impossible for doctors to give a prognosis, or outlook, for how long a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease will live. But as treatments improve, specialists can help maintain as high a quality of life as possible for patients and their families.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 29
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. 2017 Alzheimer's disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s Association. http://www.alz.org/facts/

  2. Dharmarajan TS, Gunturu SG. Alzheimer’s Disease: A Healthcare Burden of Epidemic Proportion. American Health & Drug Benefits. 2009;2(1):39-47.

  3. Early-onset Alzheimer's: When symptoms begin before age 65. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/alzheimers/art-20048356

  4. Mielke MM, Vemuri P, Rocca WA. Clinical epidemiology of Alzheimer’s disease: assessing sex and gender differences Clinical Epidemiology. 2014:6 37–48. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Prashanthi_Vemuri/publication/259957629_Clinical_epidemiology_of_Alzheimer's_disease_Assessing_sex_and_gender_differences/links/560c411f08aea68653d35f84.pdf

  5. The genetic link between Alzheimer's and heart disease. April 2016. Harvard Heart Letter. Harvard Medical School. http://www.health.harvard.edu/alzheimers-and-dementia/the-genetic-link-between-alzheimer-s-and-heart-disease

  6. Zanetti O, Solerte SB, Cantoni F. Life Expectancy In Alzheimer's Disease (Ad) Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics , Volume 49;237–243. http://www.aggjournal.com/article/S0167-4943(09)00235-0/abstract