Earlier this year, the Alzheimer’s Association released its Facts and Figures Report for 2018. Although we still don’t know everything we would like to know about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease or how to cure it, the Alzheimer’s Association report is a good opportunity to review what we do know and why early detection is important.
So, if you have an hour to sit and digest the full report, please click the link above. If you’d rather read a short summary of some of the report’s key points, keep reading below.
A Quick Primer on Terminology
The Alzheimer’s Association report distinguishes between two important concepts: Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the “degenerative brain disease” that causes Alzheimer’s dementia. In fact, most cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease, but the disease begins affecting the brain long before Alzheimer’s dementia sets in.
Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint the exact cause or causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Nonetheless, the 2018 report goes into some detail about what risk factors scientists have identified, including some that are within our control.
Immutable Risk Factors: The report says that the “greatest risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s” (i.e., onset at 65 or older) are:
- Older age. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s is greater the older a person is. 3% of individuals 65-74 have the disease, compared to 17% of those 75-84, and nearly a third of those 85 and older.
- A family history of Alzheimer’s. An individual is at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s if an immediate family member had the disease.
- Carrying the APOE-e4 gene. I’ve discussed the APOE-e4 gene in the past. Unlike some genetic mutations, it doesn’t guarantee that a person will develop Alzheimer’s, but it does increase the risk.
Risk Factors We Can Control: Fortunately, many of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s are within our control, such as diet, exercise, and mental stimulation. This means that by adjusting our lifestyles, we can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. I discussed some of the positive changes we can make in this post from 2016, but the report goes into even more detail.
Alzheimer’s Prevalence and Incidence in 2018 and Beyond
As the report explains it, the prevalence of a disease refers to the total number of cases of that disease at a particular time. Incidence refers to the number of new cases in a given time period.
Prevalence: The Alzheimer’s Association reports that an estimated 5.7 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s dementia, including 650,000 of our fellow Californians. By 2025, it is expected that 7.2 million Americans, including 840,000 Californians, will suffer from Alzheimer’s dementia.
Incidence: The Alzheimer’s Association anticipates that around 484,000 Americans 65 and older will develop Alzheimer’s dementia in 2018—or one every 65 seconds this year. By 2050, it is estimated that that figure will double, with one new case every 33 seconds.
The Importance of Early Detection
The Alzheimer’s Association’s annual report always includes a special section on a topic of particular interest for the year. Last year, it was the cutting edge of Alzheimer’s research. This year, it’s the benefits of an early Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The report breaks those benefits down into several categories:
- Medical benefits. Although there is not yet any way to cure or reverse Alzheimer’s, individuals can take steps to delay the onset of full-blown Alzheimer’s dementia. The earlier the diagnosis, the more effective those steps can be.
- Emotional benefits. In surveys of public opinion, most Americans say they would want to know if they had Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing can give them closure and let them focus on what’s important before they lose that ability.
- Planning benefits. Finally, an early diagnosis can also enable a person to engage in estate planning and other types of planning (such as planning for long-term Medi-Cal) while they can still manage their own affairs.
Of course, there’s no reason to wait until you have a diagnosis to engage in estate planning, financial planning, or Medi-Cal planning. The best time to start that process is now. If you’re ready to begin planning for your future, whatever comes your way, contact the Law Office of Bridget Mackay today.