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Posted: April 19, 2004

Life Expectancy for Alzheimer's Patients Half That of General Population After Diagnosis

Alzheimer?s disease, long responsible for a deteriorating quality of life, also can cut the life expectancy of a diagnosed patient by half when compared to an older person who does not have the mind-robbing disease, according to a newly released study on the topic.

While the outcome is not good news for Alzheimer?s patients and their families, the findings do give families a better idea of what to expect when a family member is diagnosed, said Ronald Petersen, a spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association. The study is published in the current edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Prior to this study, families relied on the judgment of doctors to predict an Alzheimer?s patient?s risk of a rapid decline. Now, doctors, patients and family should have a more reliable estimate on longevity, said study author Dr. Eric Larson. The study was conducted by the Center for Health Studies at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.

News of a rapid decline is not good news for families or patients, but it can help them decide how they would like to handle their affairs while the Alzheimer?s victim is still lucid, said Larson. It also can help family members budget for nursing-home care that is often required during advanced stages of the disease.

The researchers found the average survival across all age groups after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease was 5.7 years for women and 4.2 years for men.

Using one age level as an example, they found:

  1. An American woman who lives to be 70 years old can normally expect to live another 15.7 years. But the study found a 70-year-old woman with Alzheimer's will only live another eight years.
  2. A 70-year-old American man typically lives another 9.3 more years, but a 70-year-old male with Alzheimer's will only live another 4.4 years.

They also found that Alzheimer?s patients who wandered, had problems walking, and had a history of heart disease and diabetes were most likely to have their lifespan cut short.

The study involved 521 men and women ages 60 and older who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The team evaluated each patient's mental functioning with standard tests and also checked for high blood pressure, heart failure and other conditions likely to affect their survival.

Here are other findings from the study:

  1. Women with Alzheimer's tend to live longer than men.
  2. The severity of the disease was a more important predictor of length of survival than social factors such as race.
  3. People who scored poorly on initial memory tests had a high risk of dying quickly, perhaps because the disease was advanced at the time of diagnosis.

RESOURCES

For more information on this topic, check out these resources:

Annals of Internal Medicine, Dementia, Prognosis, and the Needs of Patients and Caregivers,? article abstract and related information, visit www.annals.org/cgi/content/abstract/140/7/501.

Alzheimer?s Association, visit www.alz.org or phone the 24-hour support line toll free at (800) 272-3900.


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