Alzheimer’s disease, which destroys memory and important mental functions over time, and for which there is no cure, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Worldwide, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are the fifth leading cause of death, a tremendous increase since 2000, when they weren’t even among the top 10.
Two main factors have contributed to the increase in Alzheimer’s disease. People are living longer — and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age, according to Dr. Sylvain E. Lesné, associate professor at the Department of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota Medical School.
The risk doubles every five years after the age of 65. The other reason is that doctors are now able to detect the symptoms and diagnose it in the earlier stages, he noted.
Every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. It is expected that this will change to every 33 seconds by 2050.
Age and genetics are the major factors that increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, Lesné said. People with a parent or a sibling with the disease are more likely to develop it themselves. The chance is even higher if more than one family member has the illness. There are some measures, however, that a person can take to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 30%. These include exercise, healthy diet, getting enough sleep, controlling diabetes, and education, Lesné noted.
The longer you attend school — as in the more you engage your brain by learning new things — the lower your risk of developing the disease, he explained. “However, once it manifests itself, the brain deteriorates faster,” Lesné said.
Critical early signs of Alzheimer’s include impairment in facial recognition and confusion with navigation and space. “[The illness] affects a person’s inner GPS. You may go to the market but get confused and not even remember where you’re headed or why.” Another major sign is a recurrent lapse in reasoning. “If you always forget your keys, but find them on the counter, no problem; this is normal aging,” Lesné said. “But if you find them in the fridge, which is something you’d never do, that’s a big logic gap and a warning sign,” he added.
“People generally live about seven to eight years after diagnosis, but the lifespan can range between three and 20 years,” Lesné said. It really depends on environmental factors, lifestyle and pre-existing conditions, he explained. Those include diabetes, smoking, depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
To determine the states where the Alzheimer’s mortality rate is the highest, 24/7 Wall St. examined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ Healthy Aging data as well as the Underlying Cause of Death database, which contains mortality and population counts for all U.S. counties. All data refers to people who are 65 or older for 2016, the latest year for which data is available.