How the Disease Progresses - Facts & Statistics


Symptoms of AD can include gradual memory loss, decline in the ability to perform routine tasks, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills, impairment of judgment and planning and personality changes. The rate of progression varies from person to person. The time from the onset of symptoms until death averages 8 years, but can range from 3 to 20 years. Eventually persons with AD become totally incapable of caring for themselves.


Early and careful evaluation is important because many conditions, including some that are treatable or reversible, can cause dementia. Potentially reversible conditions include depression, adverse drug reactions, metabolic changes and nutritional deficiencies. There is no single clinical test to identify AD. A comprehensive evaluation to establish diagnosis will include a complete health history, physical examination, neurological and mental status assessments and other tests including analysis of blood and urine, electrocardiogram (EKG) and chest x-rays. Documenting symptoms and behavior over time, in a diary fashion, will help physicians understand the person's illness. The physician may order additional tests as needed including: computerized tomography (CT Scan), electroencephalography (EEG), formal psychiatric assessment, and/or neuropsychological testing. While this evaluation may provide a diagnosis of possible or probable AD, confirmation of Ad requires examination of brain tissue, which is usually done at autopsy.


An estimated 4.5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease. An estimated 19 million people have a family member with the disease. Approximately 14 million people in the United States will have Alzheimer's disease by the middle of the 21st century unless science finds a way to prevent or cure the disease. One in 10 persons over age 65 and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimer's. Younger people also get the disease.

The disease process may begin in the brain as much as 20 years before the symptoms of Alzheimer's appear. A person will live an average of 8 years and as many as 20 once the symptoms appear.

The total annual cost of Alzheimer's disease in the United States today is at least $100 billion. This makes Alzheimer's the third most costly disease, after heart disease and cancer.

Most people with Alzheimer's disease are Medicare beneficiaries. Annual per capita expenditures for beneficiaries with Alzheimer's disease in 1995 were $7,682. That is 70% more than the average of $4,524 for beneficiaries without a cognitive impairment.

Nearly half (49%) of Medicare beneficiaries who have Alzheimer's disease also receive Medicaid benefits, in most cases because they have run out of money to pay for long term care. Of the total population ?dually eligible? for Medicare and Medicaid, 22% have Alzheimer's disease.

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