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More on Alzheimer's.

As more of us find ourselves involved, directly or indirectly, with an Alzheimer's disease patient somewhere in our extended family, the very important question of longevity arises. Although home care of the patient may be difficult, the eventual cost of nursing home care, as already noted, may be even more distressing.

Within recent months, two prominent medical journals have published studies seeking to answer the question. The Annals of Internal Medicine reported a study of 126 patients followed by the University of Washington in Seattle. The median time from the onset of symptoms until death was about 9 years, with a low of 2 years and a high of more than 16 years. The years of life expectancy remaining in a given case were not related so much to length of time the patient had had the disease as to the severity of symptoms at the time of diagnosis. In other words, a patient having severe symptoms when the diagnosis was finally made was likely to die sooner than one with milder symptoms, even though both may have shown symptoms for the same length of time. Also, patients with severe behavioral problems, particularly those prone to wandering and falls, had shorter life expectancies.

The Archives of Neurology reported a study of 42 patients carried out by the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, with similar results. Complete supervision (e.g., nursing home care) was likely to be needed sooner in those whose symptoms were most severe at the time of diagnosis, whereas such factors as age, sex, and family history of mental deterioration did not seem to determine how rapidly the disease would progress.

The findings are not surprising, given the progressive destruction of brain cells that characterizes Alzheimer's disease, but the figures may be of some use to families whose lifestyles are likely to be severely altered with the onset of the disease in one of their members.
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Title Annotation:longevity of Alzheimer's patients
Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1991
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