Alzheimer’s Disease

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. 6.2 million Americans are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2021. It is the fifth leading cause of death for adults aged 65 years and older, and the sixth leading cause of death for all adults. Alzheimer’s disease involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language, and, over time, can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Although the cause is still unknown, scientists are learning more every day about Alzheimer’s disease and what can be done to reduce your risk and manage this fatal illness.

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Key Facts

  • Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
  • 6.2 million Americans are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2021.
  • Symptoms usually begin after age 60, but Alzheimer’s disease likely starts a decade or more before problems first appear.
  • Risk factors include aging, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), smoking cigarettes, and a family history of dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s death rates increased 33% from 1999 to 2019.
  • An estimated two-thirds of those who die of dementia do so in nursing homes, compared with 20% of people with cancer and 28% of people dying from all other conditions
  • In 2020, more than 11 million Americans provided an estimated 15.3 billion hours of unpaid care, a contribution to the nation valued at $257 billion.
  • Currently, there is no cure. There are pharmaceutical and behavioral interventions  for managing symptoms.
  • Persons with dementia, their families and caregivers can benefit from care planning.

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Talking with your doctor helps you and your family develop a plan for your care.
When to Talk to Your Doctor

As we age, our brains change, but Alzheimer’s disease is not an inevitable part of aging. Normal brain aging may mean slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking, but routine memory, skills, and knowledge are stable and may even improve with age. When you have difficulty completing familiar tasks or confusion with time or place, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Know the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

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What is a Healthy Brain?

A healthy brain is one that can perform all the processes that are collectively known as cognition, including language, memory, thinking, and reasoning.

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Caregiving

About 20% of Americans have provided care for a friend or family member in the past month and consider themselves a caregiver. Caregivers provide unique and needed services that complement the health care system. Caregivers for persons with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia may provide assistance with personal care needs, such as help with bathing, dressing, and toileting. As the baby boomer generation ages, there will be more demand for caregivers. About 15% of Americans who are not currently caregivers expect to become caregivers in the next 5 years.

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Healthy Brain Initiative

"The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health" spreads understanding of and support for healthy cognitive aging as a central part of public health practice, through promoting cognitive functioning; addressing cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease; and meeting the needs of caregivers. Learn more at cdc.gov/aging.

Prevention Tips

Studies show that healthy behaviors, which can prevent some kinds of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease may also reduce your risk for cognitive decline. Although age, genetics, and family history can’t be changed, the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and careexternal icon suggests that addressing risk factors may prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases.

Here’s what you can do:

  • High blood pressure may increase your risk of dementia. Maintain a healthy blood pressure level. Tens of millions of American adults have high blood pressure, and many do not have it under control. Learn the facts.
  • Quit smoking. Quitting smoking now may help maintain brain health and can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses. Free quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
  •  Be physically active. CDC studies show physical activity can improve thinking, reduce risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. Instead, it’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.
  • Get enough sleep. A third of American adults report that they usually get less sleep than the recommended amount. How much sleep do you need? It depends on your age.
  • Stay engaged. There are many ways for older adults to get involved in their community.
  • Manage blood sugar. Learn how to manage your blood sugar especially if you have diabetes.
Page last reviewed: June 22, 2021