Tucson Lifestyle Article
By valerie vinyard | Photography by James Patrick
In Health: Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
That’s the number of senior citizens who die each year in America because of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
Although dementia isn’t a happy topic, it’s a condition that many will need to live with, either personally or because of friends and family who have it.
Knowledge has improved markedly since Alzheimer’s was discovered in 1906, but the disease continues to devastate families worldwide.
Mindy Fain, M.D., is co-director of the University of Arizona’s Center on Aging. She notes that many people use the term “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” interchangeably, which isn’t entirely accurate. Dementia is a syndrome that serves as the umbrella term that includes Alzheimer’s and other less-common forms, such as vascular and frontotemporal dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
In 2016, the Alzheimer’s Association reported about 130,000 Arizonans were living with the disease. That number is projected to increase to about 200,000 by 2025. The association reported that 2,383 Arizonans died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, a 128 percent increase since 2000.
“The longer we live, the greater the chance we’ll get dementia,” says Dr. Fain, noting that Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death in Arizona. “We have an aging society that will be burdened by it unless together we solve this issue.”
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is estimated at 47 million and is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030. The number of cases of dementia is estimated to almost triple by 2050.
In the United States, more than 5 million people currently are living with Alzheimer’s, and as many as 16 million will have the disease in 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Formed in 1980, the association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Experts say there are two main reasons for dementia’s growing prevalence: age and the fact that it’s often missed in its early stages.
“Now we live much longer,” says Steven Rapcsak, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Psychology, and Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences at the University of Arizona. “Age is the Number One risk factor.”