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How long will you live after a dementia diagnosis?

It’s sad but true that people with dementia usually have shorter lives. However, exactly how much shorter their life will vary enormously from person to person. Here’s the key information about life expectancy, but remember, these are only general statistics so think carefully about whether you want to know before you read on.

In a nutshell

Life expectancy is one of the key issues that someone diagnosed with dementia, or their friends and family, want to know, but there is no simple answer. Dementia is often called a ‘life limiting’ condition although people have been known to live with it for as long as 26 years after they first start showing symptoms. Generally speaking, the life expectancy of a person with dementia depends on the type of dementia they are diagnosed with, their age, and their health. Most studies seem to show that the average number of years someone will live with dementia after being diagnosed is around ten years. It’s important not to take this number – or any other – as fact, but to use it as guidance, and a way to prepare and make every day count.

Facts about the future

Studies into the main types of dementia have revealed the following about life expectancy

Alzheimer’s disease

General life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer’s is around 8-12 years from diagnosis although this does depend on age and health. If you were relatively fit and healthy on the diagnosis you could live considerably longer than this. People who are diagnosed around the age of 65 tend to decline more slowly than those who are aged 80 or over. But with the right care and treatment, a fit and healthy 80 year old could still live into their nineties.

Did you know? A US study of 1,300 men and women with Alzheimer’s showed life expectancy to range from one year to 26 years from when their symptoms first appeared

Vascular dementia

Since vascular dementia is often linked to strokes people who are living with it can be in poorer general health than those with other types of dementia. Studies have shown their average life expectancy to be around four years after diagnosis, though their eventual decline is often linked to further strokes.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

After diagnosis, the average lifespan of someone with dementia with Lewy bodies was found in one study to be around 5-7 years after onset. However people have been known to live between two and 20 years with it, depending on their age, and other medical conditions they may have, such as Parkinson’s disease which can be related to dementia with Lewy bodies.

Frontotemporal dementia (Pick’s disease)

The average life span for someone with frontotemporal dementia (sometimes called Pick’s disease) is around eight years from when their symptoms first started, but once again, this can vary dramatically from person to person. Many people have lived for more than ten years with this type of dementia.

Young-onset dementia

Almost everyone who develops one of the main forms of dementia will live longer if they are generally in good health or are relatively young when diagnosed, that is, in their mid-sixties rather than mid-eighties.

However, this is sadly not always the case when someone is diagnosed with young-onset dementia. For reasons which are still being scientifically investigated, young-onset dementia seems to progress more quickly. For example, a person who is diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia between the ages of 30-50 could live, on average, around two years less than someone diagnosed in their sixties or seventies. However, this may be because younger people are often diagnosed when their condition is more advanced so the disease seems to progress more quickly than it does.

Good to know

Survival rates for all dementias are increasing all the time. One of the main reasons for this is that more people are being diagnosed earlier and receiving better care. So it’s quite possible that you – or the person you’re caring for – could live longer than any of these general estimates might suggest.

How to get a better idea of life expectancy for your individual situation

Whilst every person is different, and every dementia journey is different, if you want more clarity about how long you, or your loved one might live, studies suggest that the main factors to consider are:

1. Age (very elderly people tend to have a shorter life expectancy)
2. General health when diagnosed (ie, if they are otherwise in good health or are also coping with other medical conditions).
3. Which form of dementia they have (as you can see from the information above, some progress more rapidly than others).
4. How much they can still do for themselves day to day. Experts call this ‘functional ability,’ and it seems to matter more than ‘cognitive ability’. In other words, people who continue to try doing things for themselves, even if their dementia is quite advanced, tend to live longer than those who stop.

*Other factors, such as whether you are married, living at home or your level of education don’t seem to have an impact.