Many people get a glimpse of Alzheimer’s disease from watching movies, such as The Notebook (based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks) or reading books such as Going Going: The Abduction Of A Mind by Jack Weaver, a memoir that narrates the author and his wife’s 15-year journey of Alzheimer’s disease.
There is still so much to know about Alzheimer’s disease, which is a degenerative disease of the brain. Do you know that this disease causes the disorder called dementia? Dementia, according to MedlinePlus, is the gradual loss of memory, language, thinking, and social abilities. This disorder usually appears in people over the age of 65, but it can also affect people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.
Here are some more facts that everyone should know about Alzheimer’s disease:
The disease is named after the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Dr. Alois Alzheimer. He observed a 51-year-old patient who exhibited symptoms, such as short-term memory loss, personality changes, and lack of communication and social skills. After the death of the patient, Dr. Alzheimer autopsied her brain, which showed shrinkage and abnormal deposits in and around the brain’s nerve cells. This damage causes the brain to deteriorate, as well as destroy memory and other intellectual abilities.
There are more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is expected to reach nearly 14 million by mid-century.
Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. – and, according to estimates, the third-leading cause of death, just behind heart disease and cancer, for older people. The rate of death from Alzheimer’s disease continues to increase as the rate of death from other medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and HIV/AIDS decreases.
Are women more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias? According to 2020 figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, almost two‐thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. Of the 5.8 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the U.S., 3.6 million are women. It is important to note that women generally live longer than men do, and old age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. It is also important to note that approximately two-thirds of caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are women.
Also according to a study by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine, hormonal disruptions at menopause may be linked to the prevalence of the generative disease among women. Their findings suggested that middle-aged women may be more at risk due to lower levels of the hormone estrogen during and after menopause.
Is race a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias? In the U.S., the sufferers are mostly non-Hispanic whites, since they are the largest racial/ethnic group in the country. However, older black/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately more likely than older whites to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Alzheimer’s disease is more than just memory loss, although it is a frequent symptom. The brain damage caused by the disease can be exhibited in both physical and cognitive symptoms, such as mood swings, increased anxiety, aggression, inappropriate outbursts of anger, wandering and getting lost, repetitive statements or movements, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, weight loss, etc.
Genes could play a role in Alzheimer’s’ disease, though they aren’t the only thing that determines whether one could develop the disease. Research still does show that anyone who has a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s is more likely to develop the disease than someone who doesn’t have a first-degree family member with Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is not only deadly and growing in number, but also expensive. In fact, it is the costliest disease in the U.S. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2020 cost forecast, the disease and other dementias will cost $305 billion, of which $206 billion will be paid by Medicare and Medicaid. (Take note that the figures don’t include unpaid caregiving.) In 2050, the total health care, long-term care, and hospice care cost will be pegged at $1.1 trillion (in 2020 dollars).
According to 2019 figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, 16 million family members and friends provided more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, at an economic value of $244 billion.