What's the life expectancy of a late-age Alzheimer's diagnosis?

9 answers | Last updated: Oct 31, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is 80 years old and recently diagnosed with Alzheimers. He is in relatively good health for his age. A couple of years ago he was treated successfully for prostate cancer. The doctor says it is slow progressing and he is on/responding to medication. I talk to a friend who had a loved one diagnosed in her early 80's and her declined became very noticeable within 2 years and she passed away within 3 years. When someone is diagnosed later in life what is the average life expectancy and how soon will we see the affects of the disease?


Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Ah! How I wish we could help families and patients plan better for the final days but unfortunately the length of the disease process remains 'from 2 - 20 years' according to the medical experts. I have certainly found that patients who begin this process with a rapid decline seem to continue that way and pass away after 3 or4 years whereas those patients with a slow decline at onset continue to progress more slowly and may be with us for 12-15 years. It is hard to predict however and best not to compare to others as each person with AD is so unique as is life-expectancy data.

Late-age Alzheimers vs. Early Onset, state of mind and well-being, physical and medical history, other family members with AD, exercise level (both physical and cognitive), diet, carepartners health, and sleep patterns may contribute to the course of Alzheimer's and directly affect the rate of decline.

Frequntly visitors or family members who have not seen the AD person for awhile, who may first speak of changes in behavior and understanding. Difficulty with banking and other chores involving calculating or numbers may be a first clue that the progression of the disease is happening. Misplacing things and not being able to trace back to last use, failure to recognize familiar people or name familiar objects, and progressive difficulty making decisions and/or choices are some of the other earlier noted signs.

Do remember always that your Dad may not experience other symptoms of other folks. As difficult as it is to NOT make comparisons, let me reiterate that he is a unique human being who needs to be loved and supported through each change. So do you!


Community Answers

Rrc answered...

My wife is 74 years old and has had Alzheimer's for the last 10 years that we know of. She is declining at a slow rate and the decline is speeding up in the last year or so. I was told by a doctor that a person can last for 20 years with the disease. It is an awful sickness that taks it's toll on everyone.


Kathporter answered...

My mom was diagnosed in 2002 at the age of 85 although we recognized some minor memory problems two years before. She was in the very early stages then, with a mini-mental score near normal. At the beginning, I needed to know how long she might live so that I could plan her finances. I was given the same explanation as you were, on average about 10 years but anywhere from 2 - 15. So, I planned for her money to cover her for 10 years and we are doing very well. Her physical health is pretty good; she walks, her lungs are clear, and her heart is strong. I expect if she is lucky, she can live another 4 -5 years. I have watched her progression by looking at the stages (early, middle, late) and keeping a journal of things she does and does not do. She has just entered the late stages in the last few months. For me, watching her behavior seems to be the best way to track her progress. You may have a long road ahead. But I would not trade one moment I have had with my mom in the last 8 years. We still enjoy our time together (even when she does not know my name) and I love her more than I ever thought possible.


Fiona answered...

My Mom was diagnosed 3½ years ago when my Dad needed hospice care for the end stage of his colon cancer, and the hospice nurse spent 15 minutes with us then indicated to me that my mother had dementia. Since I had no experience with this pernicious disease, I had had no idea. I had often suggested to Mom that after 30 years of not seeing any doctor, she should go for a check-up, especially when she would call me and complain about what hurt. But she refused. She was diagnosed then when I dragged her to a doctor, and I've had total care for her ever since. She's now in the middle stage of the severe phase. She just turned 80, but was a smoker for over 60 years, until last December when she suddenly "forgot" that she smoked. I worry every day and night that her money will run out, since the experience I had with a place that takes Medicaid when my Dad was there, was a frighteningly scary one. I sold her house after the housing bubble had burst, and we only got a fraction of what it had been appraised at originally. Even CDs are paying only 1% or so, and her SS is about 1/6 of her monthly rent at the private-pay assisted living place where she gets excellent care and appears to be happy. I often spend my own money on her supplies, trying to make her money last longer, but I can only find p/t jobs and we have 2 kids in college now, will have 3 next year. If I had any money to spare, I'd donate it all to Alzheimers research, but then I would feel guilty because my only brother and my oldest son have type 1 Diabetes, and I'd love for them to be free of multiple insulin shots daily. My brother rarely goes to see Mom. I see her 3 times a week, and don't cry as often these days, since I have been forcing myself to accept that Emily is gone, but the nice, confused old lady who has no idea who I am, still needs me to take care of her, which I do, out of love for Emily.


The caregiver's voice answered...

My father was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's in late 1996 at the age of 86. He lived for five years until a massive stroke took his life.

I believe (I'm not a doctor) that when blood flow stops to certain brain cells that loved ones can perish from what I like to call an "Alzheimer's caused stroke."

I describe it this way because stroke is seen as one of the leading causes of death and this affects government funding for our loved ones with Alzheimer's. If more of us can emphasize that pneumonia and other causes of death may be caused due to the body's lack of ability to cope with dying brain cells due to Alzheimer's, maybe more attention (funding) can be given to Alzheimer's.

Too late for my father...not too late for many of your loved ones.

Brenda Avadian, MA TheCaregiversVoice.com


Rdyblood answered...

To read the latest research by Dr Larson in 2004 entitled "Survival after Initial Diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease" go to this link and download the article in pdf format. Focus on Table 2 on page 506. http://www.annals.org/content/140/7/501.full.pdf+html


Kenoman answered...

My wife has been fighting Alzheimer's/Dementia for over 12 to 14 years now. Her neurologist said she could live another 5 to 10 years unless her organs begin to shut down. I guess it depends on the individals desire or will to live. She was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia 6 years ago and I was told she probably wouldn't live 5 more years. It seems that each individual is so different no one can tell for sure how long.


Rrc answered...

To Anonymous Caring.com: Since I last wrote a post to this page my wife has passed away with Alzheimer's. She left this world and went to God on 05/24/2010. Everyone is different in their decline from alzheimer's disease. Depending on what part of the brain is affected. At your father's age he might pass away from something else before the Alzheimer's takes him. My prayers go out for you. it is an awful disease and I think more money should be spent by the goverment to find a cure and help people with this dreaded disease. No one knows what it is like until you have cared for a loved one who has it. Again God bless you.

RRC


Ticktock answered...

I HAVE BEEN TAKING CARE OF MY MOTHER FOR 14 YEARS AND SHE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH AD IN 2000.MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS HAVE NOT HELP.DON'T SELL YOUR HOUSE.IF YOUR DAD LEFT YOUR MOTHER THE HOUSE KEEP IT AND TAKE CARE CARE OF HER AT HER HOUSE.FORGET ABOUT YOUR STEP SIBLING,YOUR MOTHER CARE IS MORE IMPORTANT.WITH THE 3,000 HIRE A CARE TAKER TO HELP YOU PART TIME.YES THEY ARE WATCHING YOU BUD THERE IS NOTHING THEY CAN DO ABOUT IT.IF THE COME AFTER YOU THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE HIRE A LAWYER AND IT WILL COST THEM THOUSAND OF $ TO TAKE YOU TO COURT.I HAVE GONE THROUGH HELL AND I'AM STILL HERE THANK TO GOD TAKING CARE OF MY MOTHER. TO TELL YOU WHAT I WENT THROUGH WOULD TAKE ME ABOUT TWO DAYS.GOD BLESS YOU!