Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the greatest fears to the population in general, due to its high prevalence and the devastating effects of its progress on those who suffer from it. Most people know that this affectation causes a progressive deterioration of the mental faculties, among which the most well-known and prominent (though not the only) one is memory.
Also, there is a certain notion that Alzheimer’s as well as those losses generate more and more affectation of the subject until his death. In this sense, it is common for many people to wonder what life expectancy an Alzheimer’s patient has. Answering this question is complex, but throughout this article we will try to offer an approximate prognosis based on the average life expectancy of a person with this disease.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
We know as Alzheimer’s disease one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, which still has no known cause and that is increasingly prevalent, partly due to the progressive aging of the population. This disease, which generates a dementia, is characterized by the appearance of a progressive and irreversible deterioration and death of the neurons that populate our brain, something that in turn generates a progressive loss of cognitive faculties.
This dementia does not appear suddenly, but begins to manifest itself in an insidious way, affecting first the temporal and parietal cortices to eventually expand to the rest of the cortex and finally also affect the subcortical structures.
At functional level, the most recognizable symptom in Alzheimer’s is the loss of episodic memory, along with the presence of anterograde amnesia or inability to retain new information.
In addition to this, speech problems also appear (initially anomie or inability to find the name of things but with time progressing difficulties in this sense until reaching aphasia), recognition / identification of faces and objects and motor and sequencing of movements, something that ends up configuring the so-called aphaso-apraxo-agnosic syndrome. There are also perceptual alterations (such as loss of smell) and behavioral changes (for example, wandering or loss of impulse control that can lead to a certain aggressiveness).
It is also common to see delusional ideas of harm (some of which can be derived from memory problems) and great attention difficulties, disinhibition or extreme meekness or emotional disturbances.
The progress of deterioration proper to this disease occurs along three phases. Initially, in the initial phase begin to see difficulties such as anterograde amnesia, memory problems and cognitive performance and day to day problems to solve problems and make judgments, a certain withdrawal and possibly depressive symptoms such as apathy, depression or irritability. This first phase usually lasts between two and four years.
Subsequently, a second phase is reached, the duration of which can be up to five years, when the aforementioned aphaso-apraxo-agnosic syndrome begins to appear. This syndrome is characterized as we have said by causing more and more problems when communicating, carrying out sequences of movements and being able to identify stimuli.
There is also space-time disorientation, a loss that is now much more marked by recent memory and a decrease in self-consciousness. Appears apathy and depressive symptomatology, as well as irritability and it is possible that delusional ideas of harm (in part linked to memory loss) and even verbal or physical aggression. The control of the impulses is much smaller. There are also problems in the activities of daily life, something that makes the subject increasingly dependent and requiring external supervision for most activities (although he is still able to perform the most basic).
In the third and final phase of this disease, the subject is deeply impaired. The loss of memory can even affect episodes of childhood, and it may happen that the subject suffers from an ecmnesia in which the person believes that they are in a moment of childhood. There is already a severe difficulty of communication (suffering from severe aphasia in which the ability to understand and express is practically non-existent) and problems to move and walk.
It is common that there is also disinhibition of impulses, incontinence, inability to recognize loved ones and even self-recognition in a mirror. Also the restlessness and anguish are frequent, as well as problems of insomnia and the lack of response to pain or the aversive. The subject usually ends up bedridden and with silence. In this last stage, which ends with death, the subject is totally dependent on the environment in such a way that he needs someone to carry out the basic activities of daily life and even to survive.
Life expectancy in Alzheimer’s patients
We have seen that the process of deterioration suffered by a person with Alzheimer’s is happening progressively, until reaching the bed and eventually to the death of it. The period between the onset of symptoms and death can vary greatly from person to person, so talking about a specific life expectancy can be complex. However, the average time that occurs between one and the other, the life expectancy that Alzheimer’s patients usually have, usually ranges between eight and ten years.
However, we must also bear in mind that this figure is only an average that we must take as an approximation: there are cases in which death occurred much earlier or, on the contrary, people who have lived up to two decades more since the onset of symptoms. Thus, we can not fully determine how long a person with this disease will survive.
There are many factors that can alter the vital prognosis. One of them is found in the fact of keeping the mind active and keeping the person stimulated helps to prolong the time in which it maintains its functions, something that helps to slow down the progress of the disease and improve the quality of life of the person . The lack of both physical and mental activity, on the contrary, facilitate their progression. There are also some drugs that in principle help and favor the functioning of memory.
In addition to this, it is also relevant to have a social support network that can maintain a supervision of the subject and support (although it is also important that caregivers also have their own space for themselves), or that they can request the help you need.
Another element that must be taken into account when assessing the impact of Alzheimer’s disease with respect to life expectancy is the age of onset of the disease. We must bear in mind that although when we think of Alzheimer’s, the most usual thing is to do it in an older person, there are also cases in which it appears early.
In general, people who suffer from early or presenile forms of Alzheimer’s disease, that is to say that they begin to experience symptoms and are diagnosed before 65 years of age, tend to have a worse prognosis and the different phases of the disease usually happen at a higher speed. . On the other hand, the later the onset of the disorder, the lower the effect it has when it comes to reducing life expectancy.