Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.
The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing—and growing fast. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that more than 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is currently ranked as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the fifth-leading cause of death among those age 65 and older and a leading cause of disability and poor health. As the U.S. population ages, Alzheimer’s is becoming a more common cause of death. It is the only top 10 cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
Between 2000 and 2014, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease as recorded on death certificates increased 89 percent, while deaths from the number one cause of death (heart disease) decreased 14 percent.
Today, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. By mid-century, that is poised to become one every 33 seconds.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults.
Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type.
Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.
Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing.
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information.
Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.
People with memory loss or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.
People with memory and thinking concerns should talk to their doctor to find out whether their symptoms are due to Alzheimer’s or another cause, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medication, an infection, or a non-Alzheimer’s dementia. Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible.
An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.
- Of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.
- Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will grow each year as the size and proportion of the U.S. population age 65 and older continue to increase. By 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease may reach 16 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.
In 2017, an estimated 700,000 people in the U.S. age 65 and older will die with Alzheimer’s.
As the population of the U.S. ages, Alzheimer’s is becoming a more common cause of death. Although deaths from other major causes have decreased significantly, official records indicate that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased significantly. Between 2000 and 2013, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease increased 71 percent.
Cost of Alzheimer’s
In 2016, 15.9 million family and friends provided 18.2 billion hours of unpaid assistance to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, a contribution to the nation valued at $230.1 billion.
- Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and 34 percent are age 65 or older.
- 41 percent of caregivers have a household income of $50,000 or less.
- Approximately one quarter of dementia caregivers are “sandwich generation” caregivers—meaning that they care not only for an aging parent, but also for children under age 18.
Alzheimer’s takes a devastating toll on caregivers. Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; about 40 percent suffer from depression.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the costliest chronic diseases to society.
- Total payments in 2017 for all individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are estimated at $259 billion.
- Average per-person Medicare spending for people age 65 or older with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is three times higher than for seniors without dementia.
- Total annual payments for health care, long-term care and hospice care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are projected to increase from $259 billion in 2017 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050.