Dec 14, 2016

How long will a person living with Alzheimer's last?

When I first started taking care of my mother I was asked constantly, how long does Alzheimer's last?

When I first started taking care of my mother I was asked constantly, how long does Alzheimer's last?
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I'll start by asking.

How long have you been caring for a person living with dementia?

Or, how long did you care for a person living with Alzheimer's or a related dementia?

When I first started taking care of my mother, Dotty, I was asked constantly, how long do you think you will doing this? I answered, a year or two. After a year or two, I started answering another year, or two.

After a few years, I started answering until I can't do it effectively. Until I reach the point where I am doing more bad than good. Or, I just can't handle it anymore.

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After 4 years, someone asked me how much longer? I answered,

At least one more day.

For years I asked myself,
  • how long before Dotty won't know me? 
  • Many many times I thought, it won't be long
  • There were so many times when I thought Dotty was going over the edge that I can't remember all of them.
My mother was 92 years old when I was asked how much longer and responded at least one more day. How much long turned out to be 4 more years.

I do remember telling my friends when my mother was in her 70s that she was going to live to be a 100 years old. I believed it when I said it. Dotty was made of steel. Well most of her anyway.

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Back then I read a book about aging. I can't lay my hands on it right now, it is in storage in New York. In the book it told the real story on aging. Not the insurance actuarial table version about how long you can expect to live if you are a man or a woman.

If you make it to 65 years old as a woman you can expect to live until you are about 84 years old.

But, if you are a healthy 65 year old woman. Never smoked, never had a major operation, never had a major illness. About a one-third of you will live to be 100 years old.

The number of people over 85 years of age is expected to grow by about 38 percent in the future.

I wondered?
  • How long before Dotty ends up bed ridden? It did not happen.
  • How long before she no longer knows me? It did not happen.
  • How long before she can no longer eat? Didn't happen until the last 2 weeks.
The words "how long" take on a very different meaning for an Alzheimer's caregiver.

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How long is usually a lot longer than you think when Alzheimer's strikes.
I took care of my mother for 3112 days.
  • 268,876,800 seconds
  • 4,481,280 minutes
  • 74,688 hours
  • 3112 days
  • 444 weeks and 4 days

I was with my mother for all but 22 of those days during those 8 and a half years.

Typically, a person can expect to care for 7-8 years - for later onset Alzheimer's. That is the average. I know someone that cared for 22 years.

One thing is certain - it isn't easy. But the most important thing I learned is we do it. And,

we do it well!

I will also add, Dotty and I were fortunate - I was able to keep her at home. I also know that there is more than one way to do - more than one way to show you care. So I'll add.

Just do the best you can. And never blame yourself - it is not your fault.

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Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room