Understanding Alzheimer's Statistics After Your Diagnosis

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you or someone you love has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you may be left with unanswered questions. By learning more about Alzheimer’s disease, statistics about the disease, misconceptions, next steps, and treatment options, patients and their loved ones may better prepare for the future. 

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What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in the United States. It’s considered a progressive, neurodegenerative disease because it damages the brain, and symptoms worsen over time. 

Alzheimer’s is characterized by the development of abnormal proteins in the brain called beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can damage brain cells and cause irreversible cognitive impairment. The most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include impairment in memory and behaviors, personality changes, confusion, and emotional apathy. 

Alzheimer’s statistics

By learning about Alzheimer’s statistics, people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers may better understand the disease and what it may mean for their unique situation. Consider starting with the following current facts and figures about Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.

Disease prevention statistics

More than six million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are options available that can improve symptoms and potentially slow disease progression.  

Risk factors statistics

The following factors can make some people more or less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease: 

  • Age: The primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age, with most diagnosed after age 65. However, while age is a risk factor, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not a normal part of aging. 
  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of Alzheimer's are more likely to be diagnosed themselves. 
  • Genetics: Genetic factors can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. 
  • Lifestyle factors: Eating a nutritious diet, staying physically and socially active, and limiting the use of tobacco products and alcohol can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementias.   
  • Race and ethnicity: Some racial and ethnic groups are at a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than others. Research suggests that the lived experience of racism increases the risk of cardiovascular heart disease, which can, in turn, increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in minority populations
  • Gender: Two-thirds of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are women. 

Alzheimer’s caregiver statistics

Eleven million Americans provide unpaid care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, accounting for over 18 billion hours of unpaid work annually.

It’s estimated that almost 75% of Alzheimer’s caregivers are at least somewhat concerned about their health since becoming a caregiver, and 40% of family caregivers experience depressive symptoms.

A quarter of other unpaid caregivers are so-called “sandwich generation” caregivers, meaning they care for both a child or grandchildren in addition to caring for someone with dementia.  

Burnout rates are high among professional caregivers, such as those providing direct in-home or nursing home care. Turnover rates are around 64% annually for in-home care providers and 99% for individuals providing nursing assistance in nursing homes. 

Life expectancy statistics

Alzheimer's disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, but life expectancy varies considerably based on the age of diagnosis. While the median life expectancy for an individual diagnosed at age 65 is 8.3 years, individuals diagnosed at age 90 have a median life expectancy of 3.4 years. Among those over 65, Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths have increased by 70% between 2000 and 2020.

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Common Alzheimer's misconceptions

If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may be surprised to learn that some commonly held beliefs about Alzheimer’s disease are not factual, including the following myths. 

Myth: Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same

Dementia is a non-specific term for the loss of memory, language, and other types of cognitive function loss that interferes with daily functioning. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but other forms of dementia can occur, including vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia, among others. 

Myth: People with a strong family history of Alzheimer's will develop it

While genetic factors and family history can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, many other factors influence disease development. Lifestyle factors, such as exercise and diet, and environmental factors, such as exposure to pollution, are thought to play a role in disease occurrence. It may be possible for someone with family members with Alzheimer’s not to develop the disease at all. 

Myth: Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging

Alzheimer's commonly occurs in older adults, but the disease is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s without signs of Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. In addition, people can develop Alzheimer’s before age 65 in rare cases. 

Myth: Only older people get Alzheimer's disease

Though Alzheimer's is most common in individuals over 65, it can develop in younger people, too. According to the National Institute on Aging, 10% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s experience early-onset Alzheimer’s, sometimes diagnosed in individuals in their 30s and 40s. 

What to do after an Alzheimer's diagnosis

Typically, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is made after consulting with primary care physicians and specialists like neurologists, geriatric psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, or geriatricians. 

Receiving a diagnosis may be a complicated or overwhelming experience, and you may not know how to proceed after hearing the news. The NIH National Institute on Aging created a checklist to help newly diagnosed people and loved ones navigate the steps after diagnosis:

  • Learn more about Alzheimer’s and what you can expect as the disease progresses. 
  • Schedule routine doctor appointments and ask primary care providers for referrals for memory care services. 
  • Consider pharmaceutical and non-drug treatment options. 
  • Search for local organizations that may provide support. 
  • Contact a lawyer to discuss your power of attorney for financial and health care decisions, a will, and living will decisions. Additionally, learning about future care needs and how to plan for them financially may be valuable.
  • Use reminders and ask for help from family, friends, or professionals to accomplish tasks. 
  • Request a home safety evaluation and consider devices that may become helpful in the case of wandering or medical emergencies. 
  • Get routine driving evaluations. 
  • Enjoy routine physical activity, eat nutritious foods, socialize, and build simple routines. 
  • Establish an emergency contact. 
  • Consider whether you qualify for disability benefits or compassionate allowances. 

How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?

While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s, clinical trials continually uncover new approaches to managing behavioral symptoms, cognitive decline, and psychological symptoms. Some medications may slow disease progression and could be targeted for developing disease control. 

Symptoms ranging from mild cognitive impairment to severe agitation and anxiety can sometimes be improved with routine physical activity, socializing during the day, listening to music, using orientation exercises, and practicing validation techniques. Medications may sometimes be combined with non-drug treatments to temporarily improve cognition, behaviors, or mood. However, consult your doctor before starting, changing, or stopping a medication. 

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The benefits of talk therapy

Some people with dementia, including people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, may experience co-occurring depression and anxiety. A 2022 evaluation of evidence from healthcare records in England found that, of 1,549 people with dementia attending talk therapy for depression or anxiety, 63% experienced reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms. Therapy appeared most effective for those over 65, and 40% of participants with dementia no longer met diagnostic criteria for depression or anxiety after attending therapy sessions. 

Caregivers can also benefit from a type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, in-person therapy may be challenging to schedule and access for family caregivers providing in-home support. Online platforms like BetterHelp can empower caregivers to use in-app messaging to talk with their therapist whenever challenges arise, and sessions can be scheduled outside regular business hours. 

Research published in Clinical Interventions in Aging found that online CBT for caregivers can reduce behavioral and psychological symptom occurrence in people with dementia. Additionally, online CBT can improve self-efficacy and reduce distress, anxiety, and depression among caregivers. 

Takeaway

Alzheimer's disease is a common form of dementia that often occurs in older adults. There are various misconceptions about Alzheimer’s, including that family history will always predict disease occurrence, that Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging, and that Alzheimer’s only affects older people.  If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it can be helpful to review relevant statistics and debunk common misconceptions. 

Talk therapy can be beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Know that you are not alone in your pursuit to provide the best care for your loved one, and your self-care and mental well-being are invaluable components of this process. If you’re ready to find support, consider contacting a licensed therapist online or in your area for compassionate guidance.

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