Alzheimer’s Disease

[ahlts-hahy-merz]

Granddaughter and grandfather, looking at globe

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. An estimated 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the fifth leading cause of death for adults aged 65 and older, and the seventh 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.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
  • An estimated 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Symptoms usually begin after age 60, but Alzheimer’s disease likely starts a decade or more before problems first appear.
  • Aging and a family history of dementia are risk factors.
  • Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), physical inactivity, poor diet quality and obesity, poor sleep quality and sleep disorders, tobacco use, traumatic brain injury, and excessive alcohol use.
  • Among adults aged 65 or older, Alzheimer’s death rates increased 70% from 2000 to 2020.
  • Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but doctors can prescribe drugs and recommend behaviors to help patients manage symptoms.
  • In addition, reducing modifiable risk factors can help delay onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
  • People with dementia, their families, and caregivers can benefit from care planning.

Media

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 a natural 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 trouble 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.

Mature couple laughing
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.

Adult woman stroking grandmother's hair
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.

Senior man playing chess with younger woman
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, by promoting cognitive functioning, addressing cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, and meeting the needs of caregivers.

Prevention Tips

Studies show that maintaining healthy behaviors and preventing and managing certain chronic health conditions 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 care  suggests that addressing modifiable risk factors may prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Prevent and manage high blood pressure. Tens of millions of American adults have high blood pressure, and many do not have it under control.
  • Manage blood sugar. Learn how to manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Healthy eating and regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active. Physical activity can improve thinking, reduce risk of depression and anxiety, and help you sleep better.
  • 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)
  • Avoid excessive drinking. If you drink, do so in moderation.
  • Prevent and correct hearing loss. Make sure to talk to a hearing care professional to treat and manage hearing loss.
  • 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.
Page last reviewed: September 27, 2022