Why Are So Many People Getting Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s? Here’s the Reason Rates Are Expected to Skyrocket

Most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s: The progressive disease that causes your brain to slowly die, leaving you with

Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to die off. | selvanegra/Getty Images

memory loss, confusion, physical impairments, and more. Yes, it sounds awful — and it is. But it’s also extremely common. And by 2050, Alzheimer’s rates in the United States are supposed to be far higher than they are today. What gives?

 

What does Alzheimer’s do to the brain?

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease, which means it slowly causes brain cells to die off until the brain can no longer function. In a patient with Alzheimer’s, plaques form in between neurons, which prevent the neurons from being able to communicate; eventually, the neurons die. Essentially, Alzheimer’s causes you to lose brain cells, which are necessary for brain function. The fewer the brain cells, the less the brain works. Over time, the brain becomes so damaged that other diseases and medical problems set in, causing the patient to die.

Right now, there are more than 5.7 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is frightening, but it is not uncommon. Alzheimer’s is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s the only condition in the top 10 causes of death that can’t be cured or treated in some way. Sadly, once you have the disease, it is here to stay. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Most people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after age 65, and two out of three cases are diagnosed in women.

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s. Someone might suffer from dementia, but it just means their cognitive function is not as sharp as it once was, and they may forget things they never used to forget or become easily confused. But Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gets worse with time and irreparably damages the brain.

Alzheimer’s rates have climbed dramatically over the years — and will continue to rise

Between 1999 and 2014, the Alzheimer’s rate climbed a staggering 55%, according to The Washington Post. The data was gathered from death certificates around the country between that 15-year span. It found that many more people are dying from Alzheimer’s today than years ago. And the worst part is those rates are continuing to rise. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that by 2050, there will be 14 million cases of the disease in the U.S. — more than double today’s rates.

Researchers attribute the rise in cases to several factors

According to The Washington Post, several factors play a role in the higher rates of Alzheimer’s. For one, medical technology is only improving, so it makes sense that the disease might not have been as easy to catch 15 years ago. Plus, doctors have become better at reporting diseases — and those diseases are better tracked — today than they once were. In that sense, the increased rates may just be a matter of greater awareness.

But researchers also suggest that with more medical technology comes a longer lifespan — and a greater potential for health problems. With medications to control things such as blood pressure and heart disease, people are living longer, which gives the brain more time to malfunction. The increase in cases could be due to medical improvements in stabilizing other areas of the body. Ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s is needed now more than ever. But although scientists have been making strong breakthroughs in recent years, a cure likely won’t be available any time soon.

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