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

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 Answer

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!