Office of Women's Health

Facts About Alzheimer's Disease

About 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD); an estimated 222,300 of them live in Illinois. Unless a cure or prevention for the disease is found, this number is expected to increase as the population ages. While the disease can occur in people in their 30s and 40s, it is most prevalent among older individuals: about one in 10 persons 65 years of age and older and almost half of those 85 years of age and older develop AD. More than 70 percent of those suffering from AD live at home, where the majority of their care (75 percent) is provided by family and friends. The direct and indirect financial toll of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States is estimated to be least $100 billion a year; Illinois’ share of these costs amounts to more than $5.2 billion annually.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, progressive degenerative disease of the brain. It is the most common form of dementia. AD, though, is not just memory loss. It is also a decline in the ability to think and understand. Consequent changes in personality are accompanied by an inability to function. The type, severity, sequence and progression of the mental changes vary widely among individuals. While it most frequently affects older individuals, Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging.

What are the symptoms/warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

Symptoms/warning signs of AD may include the following:

If several of these symptoms/warning signs are present, the person should be evaluated by a physician. Frequently, the early symptoms of AD, which include forgetfulness and loss of concentration, are mistakenly dismissed as normal signs of aging.

Do women have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Age is the most important known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. This means the longer people live, the more likely they are to develop the disease. Since women have longer life spans than men, they have a higher lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Why is an early diagnosis important?

It is important to determine the actual cause of the cognitive (mental process including memory and judgment) symptoms. The symptoms may not be caused by AD. Many causes, such as depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies, are reversible if detected early and treated appropriately.

An early diagnosis of AD can increase the chance of potential benefits from approved medications. It also allows the person with AD to participate in health care, financial and legal decisions.

Is there any treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?

There is currently no cure for AD. For some people in the early to middle stages of the disease, new medications may provide limited cognitive symptom relief. However, behavioral symptom management without the use of medications is recommended because there is an increased risk of worsening the dementia and other adverse effects. Interventions include family education and counseling, modification of the environment and planned activities.

A person with Alzheimer’s should be under a doctor’s care and may see a neurologist, psychiatrist, family doctor, internist, or geriatrician (a specialist who treats older adults). The doctor can treat the person’s physical and behavioral problems and answer the many questions that the person or the family may have.

What is the prognosis for someone with Alzheimer’s disease?

AD is a progressive disease. A person with Alzheimer’s disease lives an average of eight years and as many as 20 years or more from the onset of symptoms. The most common cause of death for persons with AD is infection.

Is research on Alzheimer’s disease being done?

Current research is investigating the cause, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the disease as well as looking for ways to improve care. Unless a cure or prevention is found, an estimated 14 million Americans will be stricken with AD by 2050. Since 1985, the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Fund, which is supported by contributions made by Illinois taxpayers through their annual income tax returns, has supported 136 research projects.

Where can I get more information?

Illinois has three state-funded Alzheimer’s disease assistance centers. They offer diagnosis and treatment, education (lay and professional) and research, including clinical trials. The centers’ service areas and contact information are provided below.

Chicago metropolitan area (Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties):

Alzheimer’s Disease Center
Northwestern University Medical School

Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Assistance Center

Downstate area ( Illinois’ remaining 93 counties):

Center for Alzheimer’s Disease/Related Disorders
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine