Alzheimer is the sixth death cause in the USA, see why

Stuart Bradford
Stuart Bradford

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes dementia, destroying memory, cognitive skills, the ability to care for oneself, speak and walk, said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimer’s Association. “And since the brain affects everything, Alzheimer’s ultimately affects everything,” she said, “including the ability to swallow, cough and breathe.”

Once patients reach the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, they may stop eating and become weak and susceptible to infections, said Dr. Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Unable to swallow or cough, they are at high risk of choking, aspirating food particles or water into the lungs and developing pneumonia, which is often the immediate cause of death, he said.

“You see a general decline in the contribution the brain makes, not just in thinking, but in maintaining the body’s homeostasis,” Dr. Karlawish said. Using a feeding tube to nourish patients and hospitalizing them for infections does not significantly extend life at the advanced stages of the disease and is discouraged because it can prolong suffering with no hope of recovery, he said.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that figure may underestimate the actual number of cases, Dr. Karlawish said, since some deaths may be attributed to other causes like pneumonia.

Alzheimer’s disease lasts six to eight years, on average, from the onset of symptoms until death, Ms. Drew said. While people with Alzheimer’s who have other age-related diseases like heart disease or kidney failure may die from complications of those illnesses, which become harder to manage once someone develops Alzheimer’s, patients who are physically healthy when Alzheimer’s is diagnosed can live for up to 15 or even 20 years, Ms. Drew said.

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