After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, what is the typical life expectancy?

This is a common question when Alzheimer’s is first diagnosed, especially since there is no prevention, maintenance or cure for the disease.

A precise answer is difficult, but doctors and researchers usually tell their patients the disease lasts an average of 7 to 20 years, with the typical journey being 10 years. Dr. Eric Larson, of the Center for Health Studies at the Washington State Group Health Cooperative, performed studies 10 years ago on the life expectancy of diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients. He found that affected individuals have about half the life expectancy of a same-age person without Alzheimer’s, noting however, that many people with the disease have lots of life ahead of them.

For instance, Larson found that one in four women diagnosed with the disease will live for 10 more years. He also found that several factors can influence the predictability of Alzheimer’s disease survival:

  • Women with Alzheimer’s disease live longer than men with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Unsteadiness in walking predicts shorter survival.
  • Wandering behavior predicts shorter survival.
  • Involuntary loss of urine predicts shorter survival.
  • A poor score on tests of mental status predicts shorter survival.
  • A rapid mental decline in the first year after diagnosis predicts shorter survival.
  • Pre-existing heart disease or diabetes predicts shorter survival.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is devastating, however, knowing that life expectancy is reduced does not mean giving up. Keeping socially engaged and physically and mentally active is imperative and can prevent premature decline after onset.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.