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How long does dementia last?

Welcome back Careblazer. Today I want to answer a question I recently received- how long does someone with dementia live? 


If you would like to watch my video on this topic, click here


Seems like a straightforward question, but as you probably expect there isn’t really a straightforward answer. I’m going to share with you the range that someone with dementia typically lives and the different factors that can make that time shorter or longer. 

 

The reason this is an important question is that when someone you love is diagnosed with dementia, you will need to start planning for care, future plans, how you will pay for care, and so on. It can make a difference whether someone will be living for 2 years or 20 years when it comes to planning. 

 

So while there is no definite way to determine the length of time, I’ll do my best to share what the research shows at this time. 

 

Let’s first talk briefly about why this question is so hard to answer. There are many factors that go into how long someone with dementia lives. Factors like: 

 

  • What type of dementia. Some types of dementia are faster progressing than others. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is the slowest moving dementia while non-Alzheimer's dementias tend to progress faster. 
  • The age of diagnosis. The older you are, the less time, in general, you have to live. So someone diagnosed with dementia at the age of 90 likely won’t have as long to live as someone who gets the diagnosis at age 65, makes sense right?
  • Conversely, younger onset dementia, meaning dementia diagnosed before the age of 65 tend to progress more quickly than those diagnosed after age 65. So the older you are when you are diagnosed the fewer years you likely have to live and if you are young when you get diagnosed the less you likely have to live. 
  • Gender: Women tend to live longer with dementia than men so women with dementia tend to live longer than men with dementia. 
  • The stage at diagnosis: The point at which someone gets diagnosed with dementia also impacts life expectancy. For example, someone who gets the diagnosis in the mild stages likely has longer to live than someone who gets the diagnosis and is determined to be in the moderate stage. 
  • Other conditions: Most people with dementia have other medical conditions. Those medical conditions also impact life expectancy. 
  • Medications: How many medications someone takes can also impact life expectancy. 
  • Living environment: Who you live with and the support you have can also make a difference with people living alone generally dying sooner than those living with others.

According to a 2020 study in the journal of Neurology the following factors are more predictive of lower life expectancy for people with dementia: 

  • Older age
  • male sex
  • increased comorbidity burden and lower cognitive function at diagnosis
  • a diagnosis of non-Alzheimer dementia
  • living alone
  • using more medications
  • People diagnosed in memory clinics vs primary care clinics have lower life expectancy with the idea that more complex and faster-progressing dementias (non-Alzheimers) tend to get referred to memory clinics more often than Alzheimer’s which more often gets diagnosed in the PCP office. 

That study, including some others, are linked below this post if you want to dive deeper into the research. 

 

So all of that being said, generally speaking, after someone is diagnosed with dementia, there is an average range of 3 to 10 years of life from that point. Obviously, individual results can vary and there are people who can live up to 15, 20 years with the diagnosis. But 3-10 years seems to be the most common range. 

 

I hope that helps you, Careblazer. I wish I could have  more clear and definitive answer to this question, but at this time it just doesn’t exist. There are some groups of people working on trying to create a tool that can help better predict the time left based on current symptoms, but until then, this is the information we have. 

 

If you would like to get some support along your caregiving journey, especially if you are caring for someone with dementia that can last years, join the waitlist to get alerted when I’m accepting new members into my care course here.

We take all the information on the challenges and difficulties of dementia and learn to apply strategies to your situation so you can feel less stressed and more at peace along the journey. The next time it’s offered is in November and I look forward to working with some of you then. I’ll send you an email as soon as it opens up again. 


I’ll be back next week, Careblazer. Hang in there.

Articles on dementia life expectancy:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30299452/

https://n.neurology.org/content/neurology/94/5/e538.full.pdf

 

 

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