Critter Corner: How Fast Does Alzheimer’s Typically Progress?  

kiwi mangoDear Kiwi and Mango,  

My friend’s husband was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They want to go do all of the items on his bucket list while he still has his wits about him. I’m wondering if you know how fast Alzheimer’s typically progresses.  

Thanks so much for your help!  

Howe Fast  

Dear Howe,

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80 percent of dementia cases. Though each form of dementia has certain attributes, all are progressive, including Alzheimer’s. How fast can you expect Alzheimer’s to intensify? 

On average, it takes between two to four years to receive a formal Alzheimer’s diagnosis. That can be longer if the disease is progressing slowly with subtle symptoms or shorter if notable signs like memory loss are surfacing. Early signs of Alzheimer’s can include: forgetfulness; losing track of dates or time; loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative; poor judgment that leads to bad decisions; repeating questions; and taking longer to complete normal daily tasks. When symptoms begin to interfere with daily life and/or happen with more frequency, consider talking with your health provider.

Once Diagnosed, the Speed of Alzheimer’s Progression Can Be Unpredictable  

Those who have symptoms of Alzheimer’s and were diagnosed by a doctor can progress at different rates for many unknown reasons, including:

  • Factors such as having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes may cause the disease to progress faster.
  • People who carry certain gene variants, such as APOE4, often experience faster progression through the stages. 
  • Age and other medical conditions are also critical factors. Older adults who have other health concerns may progress faster than those who are younger and don’t.

Early detection is important, because that can lead to starting treatment sooner and planning ahead. 

After Diagnosis, Doctors Will Monitor and Test Consistently to Track the Effects of the Disease  

“On a regular basis that’s determined by the severity of the symptoms, a physician will administer one of several tests to assess language, memory, attention, and other cognitive abilities,” according to Dr. Michael Kentris, a neurologist at Mercy Health in Ohio. “Based on how the patient performs on these tests over time, one can roughly predict how someone’s symptoms are likely to progress in the near future.”

The Progression of Alzheimer’s Can Be Slowed   

Because Alzheimer’s is not yet curable, and no drug can stop the progression of the disease, the emphasis is on slowing it down. That often requires a mix of medications and lifestyle changes. Certain medications can temporarily mitigate symptoms of Alzheimer’s as well as change disease progression.

Anti-amyloid treatments are drugs that target the protein responsible for creating plaques in the brain. Lecanemab (Leqembi), for instance, can be delivered intravenously, either monthly or biweekly. In addition to staying on track with appropriate medication, other approaches have been shown to help, including addressing anxiety and depression; controlling blood pressure; managing stress; reducing or eliminating alcohol; getting regular exercise; staying social; and quitting smoking.

“Risk factors like social isolation, low physical activity, hypertension, and depression can contribute significantly to dementia progressing rapidly and resulting in more symptoms,” says Dr. Kentris, adding that “(w)hile it can be difficult to predict how quickly Alzheimer’s may progress, addressing what you can, like high blood pressure and depression, can help slow it down.”

Hope this is helpful!

Kiwi and Mango

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.