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People With Dementia Have Shortened Life Expectancies

February 20, 2008

People with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia live, on average, about four and a half years after their condition is diagnosed. This is based mainly on people in their 80s and 90s who have recently developed Alzheimer’s. In general, people with Alzheimer’s have about one-half the life expectancy, after diagnosis, than people who do not have Alzheimer’s. The present findings are from a large collaborative study group in the United Kingdom. The findings appeared in the British Medical Journal.

The findings may help those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease to better plan for the future. The results highlight that dementia is a chronic condition, and that people with Alzheimer’s will likely need care for a number of years after their diagnosis. At the same time, the average survival time is under five years, with wide variations depending on age and physical condition at the time of diagnosis.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge followed more than 13,000 men and women, aged 65 and up, for 14 years. During that time, 438 of the study participants developed Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, and more than 80 percent of those with dementia died.

Overall, men with dementia did not live as long as women with the disease: 4.1 years for men, versus 4.6 years for women. And men or women in frail physical shape did not tend to live as long as their more physically robust peers. It’s important to note that these numbers mainly reflect people in their 80s and 90s. Younger people who get Alzheimer’s generally live longer. The rule of thumb is to assume half the life expectancy of a normal person of the same age.

How far advanced the cognitive decline was, on the other hand, did not sharply influence how long someone tended to live after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the present study. Nor did being married, which some studies have linked with improved survival. People who lived at home tended to live slightly longer than those living in a nursing home, though the differences were not statistically significant.

The median age at death was 90 for women and 87 for men. Average survival times varied widely, however, depending on the age at diagnosis. Those who were diagnosed at a younger age, from 65 to 69, lived an average of 10.7 years after diagnsosis. Those diagnosed in their 90s, on the other hand, lived an average of 3.8 years.

People with more education tended to live slightly less long than those who were less educated. However, the difference was not significant.

A Growing Problem

While life expectancies are increasing around the globe, one side effect of the aging population is a growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Worldwide, more than 80 million people may suffer from dementia by the year 2040.

Knowing how long a person with dementia might survive is important for caregivers and health policymakers. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have markedly decreased life expectancies. They are two to four times more likely to die than someone of the same age who does not have dementia.

Various earlier reports have shown wide variation in expected survival after a diagnosis of dementia. President Ronald Reagan, for example, lived more than a decade with the disease. Some cases may progress very rapidly. Others may linger for decades.

Many factors come into play when estimating how long someone with Alzheimer’s might survive. This study adds additional data about what caregivers might expect when preparing for a future of Alzheimer’s.

By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.


Jing Xie, Carol Brayne, Fiona E. Matthews and the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Collaborators: “Survival Times in People With Dementia: Analysis from Population Based Cohort Study With 14 Year Follow-Up.” British Medical Journal, online edition, January 11, 2008

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  • chris said:

    "I noticed my mother's dementia at age 70, she's now 85 1/2... as sole caregiver, it's a LONG road.".

  • SameShoes said:

    "I have to agree with spouse of dementia? I would be nice if some of you would share information you have I know acquired by being persistent and know what to ask. Although, all states may be different, information some of you have would be a stepping stone. My hsbd., was also diagnosed with dementia Oct. 30,2012 (yea, what a Halloween Joke )...well, he has been always very stingy, but not really a mean spirited person. Now, however, it is awful he has threatened my life several times and to be safe I always left my own house. I have like many of you no-one to help. There are two son's out of the state, but they don't want to help , there just waiting to see how much longer they have to hold out for his money. Although, one of them told him he ( his father ) would never have to go to a assisted living home. Having health issues myself, I want my husbands money to stay intact so if he needs if for assisted living , he has it and not give it to sons who do not deserve it. It is hell not having anyone to help with anything when you have to drag him, here ,there, everywhere and trying to imagine how this person feels because they can't or don't want to help themselves anymore. In my case my hsbd., does and will not do anything for himself, although he is capable and ready to go at nights to his bar.... it's a nightmare alright.".

  • mayra valentin said:

    "I'm so devestated my dad is 80 and also dianosed with dementia I go visit him and he barely speaks to me complains about walking sleeps all day and just looks so confused and out of it I can't even understand what he is telling and he can't understand me as well. I truly feel he may be over medicated but then again I know I'm in denial. The psychiatrist assures me that the doses on his meds are very mild but I don't feel right about it. I made a call to the state to bring a doctor to take a look at him what do you suggest?".

  • Spouse of Dementia? said:

    "My spouse is 58, and I have seen subtle signs of dementia since his mid forties. He becomes confrontational when I try to talk about getting some medical testing, as it could be another problem. He refuses to discuss it, and I believe thinks I am not looking at his interests. He has been primary bread winner our entire marriage but refuses to acknowledge this could leave us both homeless one day. Of course I am concerned for myself as well, the person with dementia will get taken care of, but the people who try to help them will not, if they have no money. My spouse controls all finances, lies and has stolen what little money I have had over the years. His personality and care for his marriage has changed dramatically. He has very bad memory, does not read because he cannot focus. Has very bad comprehension of everything from directions to other people's body language. Complains that I am not doing things right when it comes to all aspects of living. He is rarely home and if it were not for the other problems, I would say he was having an affair, but he could not attract a woman with his personality or his stinginess. If anything he is calling 900 numbers and could be spending thousands on that. He is covering something up, but I waste no time trying to figure it out, it is futile. Some of you talk about getting financial help but do not give out any info. Why can no one share this info for those of us who are literally feeling helpless? You say there is help, but where? For me, I need help as well with getting out of this nightmare with a spouse who tries to make me look like the one with the problem. A mentally unstable spouse will make one doubt their sanity. My husband comes from a family with dementia on both sides. He chalks his problems up to it always being like that. In essence, he is admitting to being learning impaired from childhood but denies he has the problem. His judgement has hit very low standards.....and I have no enjoyment in this situation as a spouse. And no money to get out.... My point is to please share your knowledge of the system for others so that the help is spread for others to help themselves and their loved ones. I hope anyone in this nightmare has a good outcome. It is the worst thing that can happen to an aging couple. Trust me...the worst".

  • Barb said:

    "Having a history of working with folks with some form of dementia or another,I was more prepared to embrace both my father and my mothers changing personality and inability to recall all aspects of the family.But the time spent in this last serious,comical,accepting,cherished period are some of the dearest for all involved.I still saw smiles and understanding faith and fear.Such a gift for this dear family right up until the end.Because the love never waivered.Try and embrace this time.It can be incredible.xx".

  • andrea said:

    "I'm 23 years old and my dad is 57 and is dying from dementia. He had a accident a little over a year ago and from there nothing has ever been the same. He had diabetes and had 3 mini strokes which brought on the dementia, in a years he's become so bad, can't walk eat talk live! He has no appitite and all he does is sleep. Idk what do to, I cry every 20 minutes and my heart is so broken, I have a little brother who's only 11 and he is so confused. Im just so lost and sad and angry and it just keeps getting worse. I would give anything to have my dad back, anything ;(".

  • Lorenzo said:

    "@Diana & Mlyn, Your stories resonate with me to the extent I've written a lengthy reply. A new coffee variety for the Keurig demanding a taste test is why it's posting @ 2+AM. That, plus I can't sleep since I'm preoccupied with Mom's entry into a memory care facility in 8 hours. Mom turned 80 this past Nov, & we've known she had a problem 3 yrs ago when Dad passed away. Before he died, he told me Mom was accusing him of hiding her things, sweaters & dishes & what-not; and that it was driving him nuts. Dad wouldn't hide Mom's stuff, but would happily help her look for missing things! A month after he died, Mom accused my youngest son of taking her step ladder. He hadn't been to her house in months & her ladder was in her garage. Almost 3 months of relentless "Michael took my step-ladder & I want it back now!" It's in your garage Mom... "No it isn't!" Argh. A year & a 1/2 & 2 broken hips later, Mom moved into my house with my wife & 3 college kids. We've had 3 in-home care givers quit on us & I was having difficulty defending Mom; explanations of "It's the result of her dementia/Alzeimer's condition." remain difficult for my family to assimilate. Mom became slightly incontinent a few months ago & but just last week began to pee all over. I found a semi-dried puddle under her chair in the kitchen a couple days ago, . She denies she's done anything & she can't smell the ammonia, even though my eyes have burned on occasion from removing her pee-soaked shoes. Yes, I said shoes. Machine washing is woefully inadequate & I wash her shoes by hand. Luckily they have removable soles, so hand cleaning gets them clean. My father-in-law passed away last month, so my wife is overseas with her family. As a result, I've been caring for Mom alone & have come to a new & improved appreciation for my wife. Since I did go to the Dad-in-law's funeral last month, I had to put Mom into a 2-week respite, fortunately @ a really top notch memory care facility. A post-respite report informed me that she allowed them to bath her, brush her teeth, & they got her to wear Dependz...none of which I was able to make happen on my own since her respite. Yesterday, I paid a large sum of money to intern Mom permanently in the memory care facility mentioned initially. I honestly believe she'll be happier hanging out with folks her own age, daily activies [Way beyond the shopping, restaurants, & time I gave her] and her quality of life will improve in a regimented environment where she won't say "No!" I've already begun cleaning up our house, so it'll be spotless & smell nice when my wife returns. Best of all, I get to go back to work and have a clear mind to figure out how I'm going to pay for it all once our current money runs out in 26 months. I've been away from my job for 45 days & I thank God for my work's understanding. FWIW, I'm only sharing my story, not complaining nor seeking sympathy nor validation nor criticism. It is what it is. Many people whom I respect & knowing my situation have told me that we should stick it out to the end with Mom @ home. At this juncture, I admit that line of thinking is what helped me deal with Mom for 3 yrs 4 months of WEIRD MOM, but the pee-thing took the game to a level I could not conquer. White flag, I surrender. For now, at least, I feel no regret, and I hope my kids put me in the same place if I lose it myself. Seriously, it's that nice. A final note: While in respite, & while I was away for the funeral, my kids visited Mom 8 out of the 14 days she was there. They told me that they like going there. And Mom doesn't bug Michael for her step ladder anymore. Too cool. May each and everyone of you that has your own gnarly story, please remember: Unconditional Love and know when to seek help sooner, than later. I feel empathy for your plights, knowing how difficult it can be. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, & stretch a little. Good night, Lorenzo".

  • Carrie said:

    "@ Kathryn: Try and remain strong ~ live life to the fullest as that's the best any one of us can do. In my thoughts and prayers, cK xO".

  • rachel said:

    "me to its so hard to find females of early 50s age group with this terrible disease to talk to.what makes it harder i have a 9 year old son.we cant even try to explain to him as he has autism".

  • rachel said:

    "i was treated for depression for a long time..but drugs would not help.after being treated for a break down at a mental hospital and a section then sent to a hospital for dementia and 3 more sections i have been told i have got early onset....I am only in my early 50s iam trying to accept what i do and can do compared to what i could.and what iam going to be like.WILL I GET TO 60 AND STILL KNOW MY SON AT 16...HE IS 9 NOW".

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