About 5 million Americans are already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and new research suggests there could be three times that many cases 40 years from now.
“This study shows that as the U.S. population increases, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias will rise, especially among minority populations,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced.
The agency, which conducted the research by analyzing Census and Medicare records, wrote: “Hispanic Americans will have the largest projected increase due to population growth over the projection period. The number (of Americans 65 years of age or older) is expected to double from 46.5 million in 2014 to 83.7 million by 2060, but some groups will increase much faster than others.”
NBC News noted that Alzheimer’s affects 13.8 percent of elderly African Americans, the highest rate of all ethnic groups. Latinos are second on the list at 12 percent, followed by whites at 10 percent.
Researchers have not found a cure for the progressive disorder, but they might be close to figuring out how to slow it down. Only four other diseases kill more seniors in the United States.
In addition to those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, millions of others have some degree of brain damage that could lead to developing symptoms of the disease. “If you count how many people have the pathology in the brain that says they’re on their way, that goes up to closer to 20 million,” Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurologist and Alzheimer’s specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told NBC News.
Kevin Matthews, who headed the CDC research team, stressed that “it is important for people who think their daily lives are impacted by memory loss to discuss these concerns with a health-care provider.” He explained: “An early assessment and diagnosis is key to planning for their health-care needs, including long-term services and supports, as the disease progresses.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the first sign for most patients is having trouble remembering things they learned recently. Though most people suffer some memory loss as they age, those at risk of Alzheimer’s may experience disorientation, mood swings and behavioral changes; and get confused about the details of events, times, places and people.
The symptoms gradually intensify at various rates, depending upon the individual. The typical patient survives between four and eight years following their diagnosis. Others live for as long as 20 more years.
Changes in the brain begin during the first stage of the disease, known as “preclinical” Alzheimer’s. That is followed by “mild” Alzheimer’s, which features forgetfulness regarding certain words and names. People find it harder to remember where they put things.
“Moderate” Alzheimer’s, the second stage, can last for years. Due to damaged nerve cells in the brain, patients increasingly mix up words and forget things. They struggle to express themselves and perform ordinary tasks. This can be extremely frustrating, sometimes resulting in unconventional behavior like withdrawing from social interactions, wandering away and getting lost, or refusing to bathe.
The final stage is “severe” Alzheimer’s. By this point, people “lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement,” the Alzheimer’s Association explained. “As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place, and individuals need extensive help with daily activities.”
More information may be found at the association’s website, www.alz.com. Assistance and support for patients and their caregivers are available.