Who is Affected by Alzheimer´s Disease?

Alzheimer´s disease primarily affects individuals over age 65. Seventeen percent (17%) of people age 75-84, and 32% of people age 85 and over have Alzheimer´s disease. One in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of all individuals who reach the age of 85 will develop Alzheimer´s disease. 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.

What are Warning Signs for Alzheimer´s Disease?

These are the warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer´s disease.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from Work or Social Activities
  10. 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.

How Widespread is Alzheimer´s Disease?

In 2020, it is estimated that 5.8 million of Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer´s disease. This figure includes 5.5 million people aged 65 and older and 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer´s disease. The number of people living with the disease increases every 5 years beyond the age of 65.

In New York State, an estimated 410,000 residents have Alzheimer´s disease and related disorders. 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?

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.

What are Risk Factors for Alzheimer´s Disease?

There are associations between cognitive decline and vascular and metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Understanding these relationships and testing them in clinical trials will help us understand whether reducing risk factors for these conditions may reduce the risk for Alzheimer´s disease as well.

Diabetes may increase the risk for Alzheimer´s disease. Alzheimer´s Disease and Type 2 Diabetes are connected in ways that still aren´t completely understood. While not all research confirms the connection, many studies indicate that people with diabetes — especially type 2 diabetes — are at higher risk of eventually developing Alzheimer´s disease.

Taking steps to prevent or control diabetes may help reduce your risk of Alzheimer´s disease.

Does my Family History Increase my Risk for Alzheimer´s Disease?

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?

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 another 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.

What are Some Co-Existing Conditions Commonly Associated with Alzheimer´s Disease?

Individuals with Alzheimer´s disease or other 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.

Additional information can be found in the Alzheimer´s Disease Facts and Figures

What are Some of the Ways to Reduce the Risk of Developing Alzheimer´s Disease?

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. Some healthful actions include lowering cholesterol levels, controlling blood pressure, weight and diabetes, and exercising the body and mind.

Adopt Healthy Brain Habits to protect your brain in the future:

  1. Visit with friends and family
  2. Exercise
  3. Take Care of your heart
  4. Eat healthy
  5. Stop smoking
  6. Relieve stress
  7. Get enough sleep

Why is Early Detection and Diagnosis of Alzheimer´s Disease and Other 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 Diagnosed?

With the exception of 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.

Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging-Alzheimer´s Association workgroups on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer´s disease are available.

How is Alzheimer´s Disease 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?

While scientists are continually seeking new treatments for Alzheimer´s disease, there currently is no cure for this degenerative condition.