Alzheimer’s disease receives a lot of attention these days, which is hardly surprising considering that it affects over 50 million people around the world and that this number is predicted to reach 75 million by 2030. But despite the condition’s prevalence and impact, many important facts about it remain buried in reports that only doctors ever read. Here are the key Alzheimer’s disease facts you need to know.
Note: All the following facts and figures have been taken from the latest Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report published by the Alzheimer’s Association.
16 Million Americans Provide Unpaid Care for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias
Alzheimer’s disease affects not only those diagnosed with it but also their families, causing severe emotional stress and financial difficulties. What is more, over 60% of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers are married or in a long-term relationship, which makes it all the more challenging for them to provide care in a way that doesn’t affect their personal lives.
An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is a burden for many families who have no other choice but to provide care for a loved one. Even when other options are available, many families still choose to look after their loved one at home.
But at the same time, an early diagnosis can help families better cope with the disease. It enables them to plan their future and access more treatment options. Although it’s always difficult to bear, an early diagnosis can prove to be an advantage for families who provide unpaid care for a loved one diagnosed with the condition.
In the Last 20 Years, Deaths from Alzheimer’s Have Increased By 146%
By comparison, deaths from heart disease have gone down. This fact only highlights the gravity of Alzheimer’s disease and humanity’s struggle to deal with it. Billions of dollars have been spent so far on researching the condition and understanding the underlying mechanisms that trigger it.
But despite many promising leads with beta-amyloid protein or the tau protein, current treatments cannot halt the progression of the disease. On the plus side, there are many ongoing Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials.
Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias Will Cost the US $305 Billion in 2020
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most costly conditions in the world. Apart from healthcare and medication costs, Alzheimer’s causes profound life changes that reverberate across families and society as a whole.
People diagnosed with dementia require increasingly more care and this cannot but affect their family. Alzheimer’s caregivers alone provide care estimated at $244 billion every year. Even more worrying, the cost of Alzheimer’s disease is projected to surpass 1 billion in the US alone by 2050.
Alzheimer’s Disease Accounts for 60-80% of All Dementia Cases
There are several types of dementia including vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, and Lewy body dementia. All of these fall into the broader term “dementia,” which doctors use to denote a condition manifesting a range of related symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common cause of dementia. Unlike other causes of dementia, which may be reversed or at least better managed with treatment, Alzheimer’s remains challenging to treat.
Alzheimer’s Likely Begins 20 Years Before Symptoms Appear
Scientists have noticed changes in the brains of those diagnosed with dementia that occur many years before they develop actual symptoms. These changes do not cause any noticeable symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease then can have a very subtle start.
However, these early changes in the brain can create a window of opportunity for the detection of Alzheimer’s disease. They may enable doctors to identify people at risk of suffering the condition long before actual symptoms appear. At the same time, they may inform new, more effective treatments.
Midlife Systolic Blood Pressure Between 120-139 mm Hg Can Increase the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Cardiovascular disease risk factors have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Heart disease or damage to blood vessels affects brain health. Midlife diastolic blood pressure between 8089 mm Hg may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
High blood pressure is more likely to be dangerous when it occurs in conjunction with midlife obesity and high cholesterol. But lifestyle changes and exercise may help mitigate some of these risk factors.
Only 1% or Less of Alzheimer’s Cases Arise Because of Specific Gene Mutations
Gene mutations play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, but they affect only a very small percentage of those diagnosed with the condition. When gene mutations do occur, they cause early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that affects people before the age of 65.
Genes causing mutations associated with Alzheimer’s disease such as the amyloid precursor protein, and presenilin 1 and 2 proteins tend to run in the family. Genetic testing can tell you whether you carry them or not, but it does not as yet influence the treatment options available.
The Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease for Women at Age 65 Is Almost Twice Higher Than for Men
A 65-year-old woman has a 21.1% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared to only 11.6% in the case of men. This means that roughly 1 in 5 women are likely to develop Alzheimer’s after the age of 65.
This fact highlights the gender disparity in the incidence of the disease. While men are also severely affected by Alzheimer’s, the disease is especially likely to occur in women.
One of the explanations for this is that women tend to live longer than men. But biological and lifestyle factors may also play a role.
Syncope, Fall, and Trauma are the Leading Causes for Hospitalizing Individuals with Alzheimer’s
26% of individuals with possible or probable Alzheimer’s disease are admitted to hospital because of syncope, fall, and trauma. Syncope is a temporary loss of consciousness caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain. By contrast, only 5% of individuals with mental status changes or delirium are hospitalized.
People with Alzheimer’s can experience difficulties judging distances and maintaining their balance. These movement difficulties increase the risk of falls and trauma.
Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease Could Save Trillions
According to a study commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association, $7 trillion could be saved if 88% of individuals who develop Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed in the Mild Cognitive Impairment (pre-dementia) state rather than in the dementia phase. Costs reflect both medical treatments and long-term care.
Alongside the search for a cure, effective early diagnosis methods remain one of the key priorities for researchers around the world. More than reducing costs, early detection can make a positive difference in the lives of people who eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The Faces Behind the Facts
While many of the facts and figures associated with Alzheimer’s disease are discouraging, medical research institutions, Alzheimer’s organizations, and people who suffer from the condition or care for someone who does know today more about the disease than any previous generation.
This knowledge brings with it the opportunity to plan for a better future, one in which Alzheimer’s disease becomes easier to manage and has a lower financial and most of all emotional cost for everyone involved.
As the search for effective treatments and faster, more accurate diagnostic methods continues, millions of people around the world who have Alzheimer’s overcome countless daily challenges and win small battles against the disease with every task they complete, every kind word that they speak, every face they recall.
They remain an outstanding source of inspiration for all those fighting this powerful but hopefully, conquerable disease.