Life Expectancy for Someone With Alzheimer's

Issues That Affect Life Span for Someone With Alzheimer's
alzheimers-expectancy

Knowing the life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer's can help your family prepare for the gradually increasing amounts of care giving that eventually will be needed. Someone in the final stages of the disease, for example, requires constant hands-on care. Estimating life expectancy can help you and your family plan ahead for all the practical and financial issues you'll face.


What's the average life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer's?

The general rule of thumb is that a person diagnosed with Alzheimer's can expect to live half as along as a peer who doesn't have the disease. For example, the average 75-year-old in 2007 can expect to live another 12 years. A 75-year-old with Alzheimer's, in contrast, would be expected to live for six more years.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

It's hard to gauge an individual's life expectancy based solely on the stage of Alzheimer's. That's partly because the length of each stage (early/middle/late) can vary greatly from individual to individual. Some people live 15 or more years after diagnosis, including many years with relatively mild impairment, while others decline rapidly and die within a few years of being diagnosed. In general, someone who's just beginning to show symptoms can be expected to live longer than someone of the same age with end-stage Alzheimer's.

What Influences Alzheimer's Longevity?

Scientists have a growing understanding of which Alzheimer's patients are more likely to outlive their peers with the disease. In 2004, a University of Washington study funded by the National Institute on Aging (a branch of the National Institutes of Health) identified several factors that influence life expectancy:

  • Gender. Women in the study tended to live longer than men -- an average of six years after diagnosis, compared with four years for men.
  • Age at diagnosis. People diagnosed with Alzheimer's in their 70s had longer survival times than those older than 85. The male-female difference shrank among those who were older when they first developed the disease. Newly diagnosed 85-year-old women in the study had a median life expectancy of 3.9 years, compared with 6 years for unaffected women of the same age. A man diagnosed with Alzheimer's at 85 had a life expectancy of 3.3 years in the study, compared with 4.7 years for a man of that age without the disease.
  • Severity of symptoms. The more significant the impairment at the time of diagnosis, the shorter the probable number of years left. People over 85 who wander or have trouble walking, for example, are among those with the poorest survival rates.

Also showing diminished survival rates were study subjects who scored the worst on a commonly used memory and cognition (thinking skills) test, the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE).This test asks subjects to do a series of simple tasks, including answering questions about the date and place, remembering three objects, and counting backward by increments. An MMSE score refers to the number of correct answers given out of a total of 30. A five-point drop in score over the course of a year was linked to decreased survival rates among patients in the study.

However, simply scoring poorly doesn't mean a person doesn't have long to live. Sometimes a poor MMSE score is the first indication of cognitive trouble, which may indicate the very start of Alzheimer's and therefore a longer life expectancy than predicted for someone who's had memory problems for years.

Note: There are multiple factors that can influence an MMSE score. The test is not an Alzheimer's diagnostic test -- in fact, no such test exists.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

  • Other health problems. Survival was also poorest among those aged 85 and older who had histories of diabetes, congestive heart failure, or a past heart attack.

What often happens in people with Alzheimer's disease is that their general health suffers when, in the late stages, they forget or find it difficult to eat, don't sleep properly, lose motor skills, and develop bedsores. This sets the stage for infection, such as pneumonia, or the worsening of other chronic ailments. It's those factors, not the Alzheimer's disease itself, that ultimately result in most deaths.

Bear in mind that the facts above represent group averages. Your parent, of course, is an individual with a unique health history. And Alzheimer's is a disease whose pace can vary widely from person to person. Still, having even a rough sense of what to expect can provide a glimmer of useful light at a difficult time.


7 months ago, said...

Hi, Irisized. There is really no way for us to answer your question, since your husband is apparently a very complex case. The symptoms you describe could be from severe Alzheimer's, from improperly controlled diabetes, and/or from a complication such as gastroparesis. I would suggest that you try putting your husband on a gastroparesis diet and see whether that helps improve his discomfort and weight loss. I would not put him through a test -- I'd just try the diet and see if it helps. (That's what I did with my husband, and he was able to eat again and put weight back on, and clearly felt much better.) Google "type 1 diabetic gastroparesis". I'd also suggest that you discuss his diabetes treatment with his specialist. I'd also suggest that you research local hospice providers and ask to have your husband evaluated under "debility unspecified" (aka "debility NOS", or "failure to thrive") coupled with the Alzheimer's and diabetes diagnoses (and perhaps others.) If he qualifies, hospice can be very helpful to him, and to you.


7 months ago, said...

my husband was diagnosed with severe brain atrophy in 2012 they felt was from high and low blood sugars from type 1 diabetes...then in 2014 they thought lewy body dementia, then a pet scan in the summer of 2014 show moderate alzheimers.... he is rapidly declining and has lost over 16 lbs in less than 6 months. He sleeps a lot and cannot dress, I have to shave him and when he pees, it never makes it in the toilet....he looks like swallowing bothers him.... I am sole caregiver and will care for him at home... but what would be the average life expentancy with someone with what I feel is end stage 6 and type 1 diabetes


over 1 year ago, said...

My wife has been diagnosed with first stage or mild Altzheimers, and all articles on the matter are very helpful for me. Thanks for the articles.


over 1 year ago, said...

My father in law has been given 6 months to live according to his Doctors! He has been diagnosed with advanced staged dementia and Alzheimer's. I know he has these but feel that they are writing him off!! He has been going down hill for the last year! Can this really happen this fast? I need help to make his children understand what's going on


over 1 year ago, said...

Many people think it is only losing memory. I told someone that told me that that it breaks down the whole person and destroys the person. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. All we can do is watch in horror as our loved one is slowly but surely picked apart until only the shell is left. By that time, the tears have already been used up so death is a relief.


almost 2 years ago, said...

Oh, Diane ... (((((hugs))))) I don't believe there is any simple answer to your question. Any sort of infection can exacerbate Alzheimer's symptoms and/or cause new ones, including incontinence, difficulty communicating, and extreme fatigue. So ... you cannot tell what stage her Alzheimer's is from what is happening right now. Once the infection has cleared up, the loved one often will improve again, and may even revert to "baseline", i.e., to the stage she was in before the infection set in. However, the big question to my mind is whether the doctors will be able to bring the infections under control. Your mother has so many very serious problems, all on top of each other, that they may be weakening her enough to the point she may not survive ... not because of the Alzheimer's itself, but because she is so frail and so sick. Can you ask the doctors, point blank, what her prognosis may be? I know it is sometimes very hard to communicate with healthcare professionals under such circumstances. I would also encourage you to ask that they consider hospice for her. Hospice can help her be more comfortable, and can also help comfort you. They may be better able to discuss the situation with you, and the alternatives for the best care for her.


almost 2 years ago, said...

Mum 80 diagnosed alzheimers 3 yrs, in hospital 6wks, went in with acute cholocystitis, chronic diverticulitis disease. While in she's contracted pneumonia and c difficile still positive after 3 wks, totally urine incontinent and has diahrea, which I think she's bowel incontinent too. Lost all interest in everything she once loved up until 3weeks ago and now sleeps 90%of the time. Voice very quiet, and generally can't be bothered with anyone. Blank staring, and finding it hard to think of words she's trying to say, is this the final stage. Diane


about 2 years ago, said...

my spouse is near 82, and was diagnosed four years ago. He has less stamina and evenings are the worse. He does nothing much but sit or walk a little. He is getting thinner. I try to make sure he eats well but weight is an issue. I do almost everything around here that does not require lifting. We have been married 34 years. I did not break up his marriage to his first wife. I am his third wife. His children treat me horribly , his sons are into bad things and threaten me as much as they can. We live in the home I own. He is a good man with bad kids. Their mother could not control them when he worked two jobs for them. Our life has been good but I fear his sons. He got so he would not go near them either. If I outlive him (I am 11yrs younger then he) I think they will hurt me or try. Their wives are no better. They have robbed their mother. My husband went to the local law prior to becoming totally unable to talk well and told them what they were doing so they have been warned to leave us alone. Their whole family is afraid of them.


about 2 years ago, said...

In October my Mom came to live with me. She lost her husband one year ago. She was in my sisters care. While she was in my house she was quiet but did nothing at all. She kinda just sat and I waited on her. A lodge had a vacancy with home care available (less then I thought). She is there now and they are saying she has dementia. (Could be Alzheimer's or could be related to addictive narcotics that she was put on and carelessly left on).? I began weaning down the dosage of the Ativan. She was dizzy all the time and I was constantly at the hospital with her. She finally fell and I began the reduction of the long term use of Ativan.? She was obsessed about her drugs prior to the addiction and is still obsessed. Not much diff but now has me to blame for her misery. She has times when she seems normal and other times when is obsessive controlling lacks judgement and can he forgetfull. I am finding it difficult to deal with it all. A stiff upper lip is difficult to maintain. Advice??????


over 2 years ago, said...

Nothing because nothing in regard to Alzheimer's appears concrete.


over 2 years ago, said...

Little John: I understand what you said in re to your Mom, my Mom was abusive to me too but realize this woman had big issues. You are not her. Let go of the hurt, kiss each sunrise and realize you were lucky to survive the abuse. I have a niece and sister who are like my Mom. I had always been good to them but they are BP . I woke up one day and said no more abuse from these people. I said a prayer, to bless them and have moved on without them in my life. Find people or professionals to help you get to the real you. You sound like you understand life well. Be kind to people that are kind to you. Love your children and wife. Live so that when you pass people will say "John was a great friend, uncle, etc. Do not base who you are by this very sick lady. I never fit into their sick pot, I worked hard made my way, married a wonderful man. He is ill now but he is my hero.' Find you the real you John, the one you want to be. You can do it. A nurse


almost 3 years ago, said...

My Wife started showing signs at age 79. She is now 86 and inan alzheimers home since I can't take care of her anymore. She seems to be in excellent health other than her memory.


almost 3 years ago, said...

JennyB, thank you so much for all the information. It's confusing, and I can see why. First noticeable symptoms 2008, finally diagnosed 2012. I would think onset of symptoms would be more relevant than actual diagnosis. But again, there are so many factors. Man plans, AD laughs.


almost 3 years ago, said...

Christean, hi. While I more than sympathize with your desire to know the future, there genuinely is no way to predict what might happen for any given individual. ****For one thing ... some patients are diagnosed in stage 4, others may not be diagnosed until late stage 5 or early stage 6. And, given that the range of life expectancies from date of diagnosis are anywhere from 4 to 20 years ... well ... throw a dart to pick the "probable" life expectancy for any particular person. **** I think that the studies which are the most useful in helping us try to determine how much time might be left are those that tried to identify factors which may affect mortality. (Having said that ... my husband lived twice as long as one would have expected based on such studies.) **** The median survival time after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's has been estimated at 7 - 10 years in patients diagnosed in their 60s and 70s, and 3 years in patients diagnosed in their 80s or 90s. In various studies on different patient populations, rapid decline has been linked to early age of onset, male gender, concurrent physical illness, severe aphasia, coexisting depression, extrapyramidal symptoms, gait disturbance, and vascular risk factors. *** However, the studies that attempted to identify risk factors for high mortality have not all reached the same conclusions. Part of this may be due to study design. In general, conclusions based on retrospective studies are not as reliable as those based on prospective studies. Studies that lasted many years are more reliable than those that only lasted a few years. Also, studies that analyzed data based on an age continuum tend to be more reliable than those based on an arbitrary definition of "early onset". The age cutoff of 65 years old is based on sociological factors rather than on any pathological or symptomatological basis. Also, I wouldn't trust studies that were done before the mid-2000's, unless the diagnoses were biopsy-confirmed, because our understanding of the many different types of disorders that can cause dementia have changed so much, as has our ability to diagnose them reliably. Before the mid-2000's, a cohort of "Alzheimer's patients" is likely to be heavily contaminated with Lewy body patients. **** For example, a large (641 patients) study published in 2012 concluded that survival is influenced by age, gender, and rate of decline. Disease severity at baseline, vascular risk factors, and years of education did not influence time to death. The only time-dependent factor that significantly decreased survival was worsening of functional abilities. Alzheimer's drugs were found to provide cognitive and functional benefit, but did not prolong overall survival. Average age at enrollment was 73.0 years; median survival time was 11.3 years; the cohort predominately was female (68%) and white (87%). The authors noted that median survival time in a Canadian study was 3.1 years, but the population in that study was much older (average age at enrollment 83.8 years). ---- http://alzres.com/content/4/3/16 ---- **** A large study published in 2008 found an estimated median survival time of 4.1 years for men and 4.6 years for women. Significant factors that predicted mortality included gender, age of onset, and disability. Again, these were older patients. ---- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2223023/ ---- **** A 2004 paper on a study of 521 patients concluded that median survival from initial diagnosis was 4.2 years for men and 5.7 years for women. Men had poorer survival across all age groups compared with women. Several clinical indicators, including worse cognition, significant functional impairment (such as gait disturbance), or major comorbidities (such as diabetes or heart failure), distinguished which newly diagnosed patients were likely to fare worse than average. However, the authors noted that it is not clear whether patients with these risk factors have worse survival because they have more aggressive forms of dementia, or because these risk factors signify patients whose dementia was diagnosed at a later point in its natural history. ---- http://heritagepines.com/picture/dr_larson_study.pdf ----


almost 3 years ago, said...

My husband was diagnosed at 56 and passed away from Alzheimer's (that was the cause of death) 12 years later. He had reached the stage of being in a chair and unable to walk, but still seemed to recognize me. We had kept him home as long as possible, but he had been in a nursing home for the lasts 3 years. I was desperate for information about the progression of the disease for years, but everyone seemed to have a different experience. Some patients in the nursing home were there for many years, and others seemed to progress much faster. The aides would say he was doing great and could live there for years. I think they were trying to be encouraging. They didn't know that he had prayed for a quick death...