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How Long Can Someone Live With Alzheimer's?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

The life expectancy of a person with Alzheimer's disease is quite variable. Over a dozen factors may influence it. But 7 factors seem to make the biggest difference. One study estimated that people live an average of 3 to 12 years after thinking (cognitive) symptoms first begin. But some people may live longer.1

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease. Its symptoms are different from one person to another. Its best-known symptoms are problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. But it may also affect overall health. And having Alzheimer's can contribute to other health problems that may shorten life, such as infections and falls.1

Understanding how long someone with Alzheimer’s may live can help you plan for the coming changes. The person with Alzheimer's can express how they want to live out their life. Loved ones can help arrange finances and future care needs.1

Things that impact life expectancy with Alzheimer’s

A wide range of factors impact life expectancy in people with Alzheimer’s. A greater decline in cognitive skills seems to be most closely linked to shorter life expectancy. Other significant factors included:1

  • Sex
  • Age at diagnosis
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Symptoms of mental health challenges such as aggression, anxiety, depression, or hallucinations
  • Problems carrying out daily tasks like cooking and managing money
  • Symptoms of problems with the central nervous system, such as trouble with balance and walking

In the past, scientists believed that most people with Alzheimer's who lived shorter lives were older, white men with more motor (movement) and mental (psychiatric) symptoms. But more studies suggest this is not the case.2

The problem is that the only way to confirm Alzheimer's is to examine the person's body after they die (perform an autopsy). Most of these autopsies are done on people who leave their bodies to science. And those tend to be older, wealthier white people. As studies become more diverse, this information may change.2

Preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms

The Chicago Health and Aging Project found that 5 lifestyle choices seem to delay Alzheimer’s symptoms or help older people live longer without Alzheimer’s symptoms. These lifestyle choices were:3

  • Eating the Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet
  • Continuing activities that engage the mind into older age, such as games and social activities
  • 150 minutes or more of moderate or vigorous physical activity each week
  • Not smoking
  • Light to moderate drinking

Studies show these choices may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 60 percent. They also may lead to a longer life. But being older is itself a risk for Alzheimer’s. So it may be that a healthier lifestyle delays Alzheimer’s to later ages.3

Can Alzheimer’s treatment help?

There are no treatments approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to cure Alzheimer’s disease. But there are FDA-approved treatments that may slow how fast the disease gets worse in some people. Daily exercise also seems to help people with Alzheimer’s live a longer, healthier life.3,4

One study found that some FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs can slow the loss of brain function by 4 to 6 months in the early stages. This may not seem very long. But it can give people with the disease the time they need to plan ahead with their families. The study also found it likely that treating other health conditions could slow Alzheimer’s progression.4

Another study found that 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day may help prevent or slow Alzheimer’s. Regular exercise keeps you physically healthy overall. But it also seems to keep the brain healthier. Exercise keeps blood flowing and increases chemicals that protect the brain.3

Each person with Alzheimer’s is unique. So it is important to work closely with your doctor to find a care plan that fits your health needs and preferences.

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