How Fast Does Alzheimer's Disease Progress?

October 13, 2023
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Bre'anna Wilson
September 10, 2023
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One of the most common questions asked by dementia caregivers is, "How fast does Alzheimer's disease progress?" Understandably so, right? Caregivers want to understand the pace of the disease so that they know what to expect and plan accordingly. However, it's important to know that the progression of Alzheimer's disease and any other type of dementia can vary greatly from person to person. For this reason, if I'm being honest, I do not love giving specific timelines. Generally speaking, Alzheimer's disease is a relatively slow progressing disease.


When a person is diagnosed in their 60s to early 70s we can estimate that they will live about 7 to 10 years with their diagnosis. However, if a person is diagnosed in their 90s, this range will drop to about 4 to 7 years. Now, as far as early-onset Alzheimer's disease (diagnosed before the age of 65) is concerned, there is conflicting evidence about whether or not disease progression is faster or more aggressive. Most sources will say that there is no significant difference in lifespan expectation when compared to those with late-onset Alzheimer's disease (diagnosed at 65 years or older).


So, again, this will vary greatly from person to person and is also influenced by a number of factors, with age at diagnosis being just one! So, let's look at a few others.


Other Factors Affecting Progression:

Several factors can influence how fast Alzheimer's disease progresses in an individual:

  1. Genetics: A person's genetic makeup can play a role in the rate of disease progression. For example, the presence of the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) ɛ4 allele can influence the rate of cognitive decline and disease progression.
  2. Overall Health: Alzheimer's disease tends to progress more quickly if the person is living with other conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, especially if these conditions are not well-managed.
  3. Lifestyle Factors: A healthy diet, regular exercise, and mental stimulation may help delay cognitive decline.
  4. Medications: Some medications can temporarily alleviate symptoms and slow progression of cognitive symptoms (not the disease progression itself) and other medications can increase the progression of cognitive symptoms.
  5. Type of Dementia: It is possible for a person to have more than one type of dementia, we call this mixed dementia. The type of dementia can greatly impact a person's rate of progression along their disease course. For example, dementias with notable psychiatric-behavioral manifestations and gait disturbances tend to progress faster when compared to Alzheimer's disease. 


So, while understanding the progression of Alzheimer's disease is valuable for caregivers, it's essential to remember that each person's journey is unique. Some people may experience a slower or faster decline than others. The timeline can vary significantly, which is why providing individualized care and support is important.


References:

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archger.2009.09.035

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