When The Care Home Nurses Led Her To The Piano She Stared At It Blankly Put Her Hands On The Keys And Stopped And Then Stared Off Into Space Disinterested In The Thing That Had Given Her So Much Joy Her Whole Life
They say the disease takes a big downward step and then stabilizes, but that those periods of stability get shorter and shorter. That was the case in February. When we would come visit, her face would light up Hi, Poepie, she would say to me, even when she had lost all her other words. But one day in late February, my sister found her sitting alone in her room, staring vacantly and unresponsive. Nothing my sister did elicited a response. It was the first wakeup call of many for us. The next day, it was back to normal. My mother was her oldalbeit post-Alzheimersself, smiling and responding with yes, no, nods and shakes of the head.
What Is The Life Expectancy For Someone With Dementia
This is an incredibly difficult question to answer as there are many influencing factors, including the persons age and gender, the type of dementia and the stage of the condition at diagnosis. The average life expectancy after diagnosis for someone with Alzheimers, the most common form of dementia is 10 years. However, dementia progresses differently in everyone, meaning people can live anywhere from 2 years to 26 years after diagnosis.
The main way in which health care professionals estimate dementia life expectancy is by using the Global Deterioration Scale , also called the Reisberg Scale. It shows the average time someone is expected to live depending on which stage of dementia they are at.
|Stage||Expected Life Expectancy|
|Stage 1: No cognitive decline||N/A|
|Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline||Unknown|
|Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline||2-7 years|
|Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline||2 years|
|Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline||1.5 years|
|Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline||2.5 years|
|Stage 7: Very Severe cognitive decline||1.5 to 2.5 years||2.5 years or less|
Alzheimer’s Disease: Predicting Survival
There’s still no way to give a precise answer. But new data paint a much sharper picture of how long a person with Alzheimer’s disease will survive — and how fast the disease will progress.
Memory Problems? Take the Alzheimer’s Quiz.
The information comes from a study of 521 Seattle residents aged 60 and older recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Health Studies at the Group Health Cooperative, an HMO based in Washington state, led the study.
“Now you can give patients an idea of just how long, on average, they are going to live,” Larson tells WebMD. “And you can distinguish those with a worse prognosis from those with a better one.”
Earlier studies tended to look at hospitalized patients, who are much farther along in the course of their disease. Larson’s team found patients nearly as soon as they received their Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. That makes the findings much more relevant to real life, says Neil Buckholtz, PhD, chief of the National Institute on Aging’s dementia branch.
“This study supports what we have been saying for a long time. Alzheimer’s survival is highly variable: five to 20 years,” Buckholtz tells WebMD. “President Reagan, for example, has survived for quite some time. It is quite variable for individuals.”
The findings appear in the April 6 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.
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What Is Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimers disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 70% of all people with dementia. It was first recorded in 1907 by Dr Alois Alzheimer. Dr Alzheimer reported the case of Auguste Deter, a middle-aged woman with dementia and specific changes in her brain. For the next 60 years Alzheimers disease was considered a rare condition that affected people under the age of 65. It was not until the 1970s that Dr Robert Katzman declared that “senile dementia” and Alzheimers disease were the same condition and that neither were a normal part of aging.
Alzheimers disease can be either sporadic or familial.
Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease can affect adults at any age, but usually occurs after age 65 and is the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease.
Familial Alzheimers disease is a very rare genetic condition, caused by a mutation in one of several genes. The presence of mutated genes means that the person will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease, usually in their 40’s or 50’s.
The Healthy Human Brain
Behind the ears and temples are the temporal lobes of the brain. These regions process speech and working memory, and also higher emotions such as empathy, morality and regret. Beneath the forebrain are the more primitive brain regions such as the limbic system. The limbic system is a structure that is common to all mammals and processes our desires and many emotions. Also in the limbic system is the hippocampus a region that is vital for forming new memories.
How Long Do People With Alzheimers Live
The best answer to this question is it varies. But people naturally want statistics. Studies have shown the average to be 8-12 years, but life expectancy following diagnosis can be as short as 3 years, or as long as 20 years.
One American study showed people living between one and 26 years after first spotting symptoms the variation is enormous.
Doctors always recommend that someone with Alzheimers disease should focus on the quality of life and making the most of the time left, rather than fixating on the numbers about life expectancy.
But there are some factors that can affect how long people with Alzheimers live after diagnosis.
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How To Get A Better Idea Of Life Expectancy For Your Individual Situation
Whilst every person is different, and every dementia journey is different, if you want more clarity about how long you, or your loved one might live, studies suggest that the main factors to consider are:
1. Age 2. General health when diagnosed .3. Which form of dementia they have .4. How much they can still do for themselves day to day. Experts call this functional ability, and it seems to matter more than cognitive ability. In other words, people who continue to try doing things for themselves, even if their dementia is quite advanced, tend to live longer than those who stop.
*Other factors, such as whether you are married, living at home or your level of education dont seem to have an impact.
How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed
To diagnose Alzheimers, doctors may:
- Ask the person and a family member or friend questions about overall health, use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality
- Conduct tests of memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language
- Carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem
- Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography , magnetic resonance imaging , or positron emission tomography , to rule out other possible causes for symptoms
These tests may be repeated to give doctors information about how the persons memory and other cognitive functions are changing over time. They can also help diagnose other causes of memory problems, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinsons disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medication, an infection, mild cognitive impairment, or a non-Alzheimers dementia, including vascular dementia. Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible.
People with memory problems should return to the doctor every 6 to 12 months.
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Formula Predicts Alzheimer’s Longevity
That, says Gregory A. Jicha, MD, is the first question patients ask after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Until now, the answer has largely been a guessing game. But Jicha and colleagues have developed a simple formula based on a patient’s sex, age, and cognitive skills at the time of diagnosis to more accurately predict life expectancy.
“Having a better of idea of how long they will live will allow patients and families to better plan for the future,” says Jicha, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.
Facts About Alzheimer Disease
Alzheimer disease is becoming more common as the general population gets older and lives longer. Alzheimer disease usually affects people older than 65. A small number of people have early-onset Alzheimer disease, which starts when they are in their 30s or 40s.
People live for an average of 8 years after their symptoms appear. But the disease can progress quickly in some people and slowly in others. Some people live as long as 20 years with the disease.
No one knows what causes Alzheimer disease. Genes, environment, lifestyle, and overall health may all play a role.
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What Causes Death With Dementia Patients
In the early stages of dementia, the signs and symptoms are very mild and often unnoticeable. As the disease progresses and the patient beings to experience brain failure, they experience a decline in mobility and eventually have difficulty eating or swallowing. Weight loss and a lack of movement often instigate an increase in vulnerabilities. The patient becomes more susceptible to infections and disease which are harder to fight off.
As their health begins to fail, patients in the end-stage of dementia may suffer from major health events that can lead to death. The progressive brain disease itself will also eventually lead to death as well. In the early stages of the disease, its important to take steps to help slow the patients mental decline. Alternatively, its recommended in the end-stage to focus on palliative care making the patient as comfortable as possible and improving the quality of life rather than using aggressive treatments.
Talking To Others About Your Diagnosis
While support from family and friends is crucial, choosing who to tell about your diagnosis is always a very personal decision. You may want to share it with just your closest family first, for example, then with a wider group of friends and acquaintances later. Whatever you decide is right for you, its important not to try to go it alone and deny people who care about you the chance to provide support.
Its also important to be prepared for a broad spectrum of reactions. Just as you may have felt a combination of shock, anger, grief, and despair at news of your diagnosis, people close to you may have similar reactions. Remember: you dont have to cover everything all at once. Your first conversation with loved ones is likely to be just the start of an ongoing dialogue as you all learn more about the disease and the challenges youll be facing in the future.
You may find that one of the hardest things about being diagnosed with dementia is the impact it can have on your relationships. As your independence declines, you may become more reliant on your spouse, children, or friends. You may lose your role as provider, financial decision-maker, or designated driver as others take over those responsibilities. Some older friends may even pull away, your diagnosis raising uncomfortable questions about their own health.
When communicating with loved ones:
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Tip : Plan For The Future
While its not easy to think about, getting your finances in order and figuring out how you want your healthcare handled can give you a sense of power over your future. Talk with your loved ones and communicate your wishes. Discuss and document treatment and end-of-life preferences with your doctors and family members. Appoint someone you trust to make decisions for you when you can no longer make them for yourself.
Although these conversations may be difficult, making your wishes known can also be empowering. And by making important decisions early, youll avoid future medical, financial, and legal confusion.
Is There Treatment Available
At present there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, one group of drugs called cholinergeric drugs appears to be providing some temporary improvement in cognitive functioning for some people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Drugs can also be prescribed for secondary symptoms such as restlessness or depression or to help the person with dementia sleep better.
Community support is available for the person with Alzheimer’s disease, their families and carers. This support can make a positive difference to managing dementia. Dementia Australia provides support, information and counselling for people affected by dementia. Dementia Australia also aims to provide up-to-date information about drug treatments.
For more information contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
For a range of books and videos contact our Library.
For advice, common sense approaches and practical strategies on the issues most commonly raised about dementia, read our Help Sheets.
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Tip : Take Steps To Slow The Advancement Of Symptoms
Even when youve been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease or dementia, there is still a great deal that you can do to slow its progress. The same healthy lifestyle changes and mental stimulation techniques that are used to prevent or delay the onset of dementia can also be effective in slowing the progression of the disease and maintaining your independence for longer.
1. Get moving. Regular exercise stimulates the brains ability to maintain old connections, make new ones, and slow deterioration of your cognitive abilities.
2. Reach out to others. The more you connect face-to-face with others, the more you engage socially, the better your cognitive function will be.
3. Eat well. Eating a brain-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce inflammation, protect neurons, and promote better communication between brain cells.
4. Seek mental stimulation. By continuing to learn new things and challenge your brain, you can strengthen your cognitive skills and stay mentally active for longer.
5. Improve your sleep. Getting quality sleep can flush out brain toxins and avoid the build-up of damaging plaques.
6. Manage stress. Unchecked stress takes a heavy toll on the brain, shrinking a key memory area, hampering nerve cell growth, and worsening Alzheimers symptoms. Relaxation practices and other stress management techniques can help you ease the tension and regain control.
Life Expectancy And Vascular Dementia
Repeated small strokes can damage the brain and cause vascular dementia. Its the second most common cause of the disease. The pattern of disease progression is different from the gradual deterioration of Alzheimers disease. The symptoms may be steady for a while, then suddenly get worse followed by a further period of stability. This reflects times when blood clots interrupt the blood supply to the brain, causing damage.
Because people with vascular dementia is linked to strokes, people affected often have other illnesses and may have worse general health. Research suggests that the average life expectancy is around four years. However, sudden or severe deterioration can happen when there is a further stroke.
Alzheimer’s Patients And Caregivers
Kenneth E. Covinsky, MD, MPH, says the new findings will help health care workers understand the need to support people taking care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Covinsky is staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His editorial accompanies the Larson study.
“While life expectancy is reduced, it is also not true that the average Alzheimer’s patient is close to death,” Covinsky tells WebMD. “There is going to be a fairly lengthy period where there will be important needs to be thought of both for the patient and for the caregiver. We know these needs will persist over a fairly lengthy period of time.”
While Alzheimer’s disease can’t be cured, palliative care can greatly improve quality of life for both patients and caregivers. Providing that care will be a challenge — not only for individual families, but also for society.
“For older patients, palliative care needs to start well before someone is ready for hospice,” Covinsky says. “Part of the issue is recognizing those needs better. But another part is that those services — caregiver support groups, for example, or home health aid — are hard to get. This is the kind of stuff not covered by most insurance plans.”
The Later Stage Of Dementia
People with later-stage dementia will eventually need full-time care and support with daily living and personal care, such as eating, washing and dressing. Whatever kind of dementia a person has, their life expectancy is on average lower.
The progression and stages of dementia
Dementia is a life-limiting condition and there is information about later-stage dementia and life expectancy on this page. Some people may find this upsetting and difficult to think about.
For more general information about the different stages of dementia, see The progression and stages of dementia page.
By the later stage of dementia, the condition will have a severe impact on most aspects of a persons life. The person will eventually need full-time care and support with daily living and personal care, such as eating, washing and dressing. This support can be provided by care at home but is more often given in a care home setting.
Symptoms of all kinds are likely to cause the person considerable difficulties in this stage, but altered perception and physical problems are often the most noticeable. By the late stage, the symptoms of all types of dementia become very similar.
The later stage of dementia tends to be the shortest. On average it lasts about one to two years.
Are you supporting a person with later-stage dementia?
Get practical advice and tips on supporting a person with later-stage dementia.
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