Alzheimer´s Disease Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who is Affected by Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias?
Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (ADRD) primarily affects individuals over the age of 65. Seventeen percent (13%) of people aged 75-84, and 33% of people aged 85 and over have Alzheimer´s disease. One in 9 people over 65 and nearly half of all individuals who reach the age of 85 will develop Alzheimer´s Disease and related dementias. Among people ages 65 and older, African Americans have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer´s Disease at almost 14% followed by Hispanics at 12%, Non-Hispanic whites 10%, American Indian and Alaska Natives 9% and Asian and Pacific Islanders are at 8.4%. Because of its nature, Alzheimer´s disease can have a tremendous impact not only on those diagnosed with it, but also with their families and caregivers.
In 2023, it is estimated that 6.7 million of Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer´s disease. The number of people living with the disease increases every 5 years beyond the age of 65. Additionally, 200,000 individuals under age 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer´s disease.
In New York State, an estimated 410,000 residents have Alzheimer´s disease or related dementia. Given the increase in the older population, especially the proportion of the population over 80 years of age, it is anticipated that the number of individuals with Alzheimer´s disease in New York State will increase to 460,000 by 2025.
What Causes Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias?
Alzheimer´s disease is caused by abnormalities that disrupt the ability of nerve cells in the brain to communicate with each other. While there is no single event that triggers the disease, there seem to be several factors that play a role in its development. There are certain genetic, non-genetic and biologic factors that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer´s disease. Studies have begun to identify relationships between physical activity levels, dietary factors, inflammation, cardiovascular conditions, brain health, and control of chronic diseases like diabetes to name a few.
At this time, scientists do not fully understand what causes Alzheimer´s disease in most people. In people with early-onset Alzheimer´s, a genetic mutation is usually the cause. Late-onset Alzheimer´s disease arises from a complex series of brain changes that occur over decades. The causes probably include some combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. The importance of any one of these factors in increasing or decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer´s disease may differ from person to person.
The Alzheimer´s Disease Education and Referral Center provides detailed information on the causes of Alzheimer´s disease.
Does my Family History Increase my Risk for Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias?
Yes. Researchers have discovered a number of genes that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer´s disease. Although people with a family history of Alzheimer´s disease are generally considered to have a heightened risk of developing the disease themselves, many people who have relatives with Alzheimer´s disease never develop the disease, and many without a family history of the disease do get it. In most cases, it is impossible to predict a specific person´s risk of the disorder based on family history alone. Those who have a parent, brother, sister, or child with Alzheimer´s disease is more likely to develop the disease. The risk of Alzheimer´s disease does increase if more than one family member has the illness. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics) or environmental factors, or both, may play a role.
The National Institute on Aging maintains detailed information on Alzheimer´s disease genetics and testing.
What are the Early Symptoms of Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias?
The course of Alzheimer´s disease can vary by each person. However, symptoms usually develop over the same general stages. For most people with Alzheimer´s disease, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. At some point, the damage occurring in the brain begins to show itself in very early clinical signs and symptoms. Much research is being done to identify these early changes, which may be useful in predicting Alzheimer´s disease or related dementia.
Symptoms vary widely; however, the first sign of the disease is most often forgetfulness that begins to affect an individual´s daily routine. Other warning signs include: difficulty performing familiar tasks like cooking; problems with language; disorientation to time and place; poor or decreased judgment, misplacing things; and changes in mood or behavior. There also can be changes in personality and loss of initiative, such as no longer being interested in previous hobbies or activities. Another common symptom is reduced capacity to grasp ideas that do not relate to an individual´s personal experiences.
Additional information can be found in the Alzheimer´s Disease Facts and Figures
These are the warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer´s disease:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from Work or Social Activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees. If you are concerned with any of them, please talk to your healthcare provider.
What are Some of the Ways to Reduce the Risk of Developing Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias?
While scientists are uncertain what causes Alzheimer´s disease, some preliminary research suggests that general strategies for healthy aging reduce the risk. Some studies support the value of lifelong learning and engaging in activities that are mentally stimulating. There is clinical evidence that suggests physical and mental function improves with aerobic fitness.
Individuals with Alzheimer´s disease or related dementias are more likely to have multiple, other chronic conditions in comparison to individuals without dementia. Common co-existing conditions include: coronary artery disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Reducing the risk of these diseases may reduce your risk of developing ADRD.
Why is Early Detection and Diagnosis of Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias Important?
Early diagnosis can improve quality of life and may help resolve anxiety related to wondering what is wrong when the disease begins to interfere with an individual´s daily life. Benefits of early detection include:
- Symptoms of some dementias can be reversed
- Increased treatment options and access to information, services, and support
- Advanced planning for health, housing, finance, care, and risk reduction
- Option to participate in clinical trials recruiting individuals in the early stages of dementia
- Relief gained from better understanding by patients and caregivers
- Better overall health outcomes
- Reduced health care costs
How is Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias Diagnosed?
Apart from an autopsy after death, no single test can determine whether an individual has Alzheimer´s disease. Diagnosis involves a complete physical, neurological examination and specialized neuropsychiatric assessments. Laboratory tests and imaging studies will also be reviewed. Testing often takes more than one day and is usually performed on an outpatient basis. In addition to the individual for whom the diagnosis is being made, other family members may be interviewed in order to gather information about the patient´s activities and behavior. The diagnostic process should identify other diseases or conditions that can be treated, such as depression, since these diseases can impact a person´s performance on cognitive testing. In addition, there are other diseases that may cause a change in cognitive abilities, so it is important that a comprehensive diagnostic process be completed that explores the possible presence of these other conditions.
How is Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias Treated?
There are approved drugs that help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer´s disease. Some drugs may temporarily delay memory decline in some individuals and other drugs help treat the emotional and behavioral symptoms. Additionally, there may be individualized mental health interventions that go beyond drugs or using restraints to treat aggression sometimes associated with Alzheimer´s disease. Clinical trials that compare a potential new strategy with a standard one or with a placebo may be yet another approach to treatment.
Is there a Cure for Alzheimer´s Disease and Related Dementias?
While scientists are continually seeking new treatments for Alzheimer´s disease, there currently is no cure for this degenerative condition.