What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia among older adults. Alzheimer’s disease involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language and can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Although scientists are learning more every day, right now, they still do not know what causes Alzheimer’s disease.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. There probably is not one single cause, but several factors that affect each person differently. Age is the most important known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
Family history is another risk factor. Researchers believe that genetics may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists still need to learn a lot more about what causes Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to genetics, they are studying education, diet, and environment to learn what role they might play in developing this disease. Scientists are finding more and more evidence that some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low levels of the vitamin folate may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence for physical, mental and social activities as protective factors against Alzheimer’s disease is also growing.
Who has Alzheimer’s Disease?
As many as 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. While younger people may get Alzheimer’s disease, it is much less common. The disease usually begins after age 60, and risk goes up with age. About 5 percent of men and women ages 65 to 74 have Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly half of those age 85 and older may have the disease. It is important to note, however, that Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
What is the burden of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States?
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the top ten leading causes of death in theUnited States. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death among American adults, and the 5th leading cause of death for adults aged 65 years and older. Notably, mortality rates for Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise, unlike heart disease and cancer death rates which are continuing to decline.
An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.2 This number has doubled since 1980, and is expected to be as high as 16 million by 2050.
In 2011, total Medicare and Medicaid spending for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated at $130 billion.
The average per person Medicare payments for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are three times higher than for those without these conditions. Medicaid spending for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is nine times higher.
The Aging Brain: A Lesson on Alzheimer’s Disease
There are a number of studies that suggest behaviors that might lessen the risk of developing the disease. Among these are increasing physical activity, having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, maintaining social engagement, and participating in intellectually stimulating activities. Some studies suggest that the prevention of diseases that damage blood vessels such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes may also lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies are investigating the use of vitamin C and E as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin. We must await the outcome of ongoing studies to assess the effectiveness of these measures. The approved treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are designed to enhance the communication between nerve cells. In some individuals, this will lessen the symptoms. However, these treatments will not prevent the progression of the disease. Read More.
CDC Healthy Aging Program funded University of Washington, a member of the CDC Healthy Aging Research Network, to gather information and resources that can assist public health practitioners at the national, state, and local levels to articulate the effects of cognitive impairment on public health strategies and policies, in particular the design and delivery of evidence-based health-promotion and chronic disease self-management programs. The findings will be published and a database of resources will be made available.
An estimated 25-29% of caregivers of persons age 50 or older provide assistance to someone with a cognitive impairment, a memory problem, or a disorder like Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia (NAC, 2004).
For Alzheimer’s disease alone, in 2008 there were an estimated 9.9 million caregivers providing 8.5 billion hours of care at a value of $94 Billion dollars (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009).
The average age of a caregiver to a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other is 48 years old. (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009).
18% of children 8 to 18 years old provide unpaid care for someone (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009).
The vast majority (87%) of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are cared for at home by family members (Alzheimer’s Association, 2009).
Caregivers provide assistance to a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia who is their parent or parent-in-law (57%), grandparent (11%), or spouse (6%; Alzheimer’s Association, 2009).
10% of family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or an other dementia are doing so long distance.
News and Updates:
The CDC Health Brain Initiative
Released in September 2011, the CDC Healthy Brain Initiative Progress: 2006-2011 outlines progress to date of the CDC Healthy Brain Initiative.