Following a dementia diagnosis, it’s understandable that many individuals want to know the answer to the question: How long do I have to live? The answer might be scary, but understanding the way cognitive diseases progress will ultimately help you plan your approaches to health care and budgeting.
As there are many different types of dementia, the average life expectancy varies greatly. When you factor in underlying health conditions, access to care, and early diagnosis, the answer can be somewhat hard to pin down. Because of this, it is best to use the information in this article as a reference or guide instead of a definitive answer.
Type of Dementia
Average Life Expectancy Post-Diagnosis
Memory loss and increased confusion
Visual and spatial issues
Cognitive difficulty, forgetting things, and difficulty coming up with words
Repeating questions and losing items
Difficulty understanding conversations or producing speech/words
Behavior changes and memory loss
Difficulty finding the right words
Lack of judgment or increased repetitive behavior
Speech and language issues
Tremors, difficulty swallowing, and muscle spasms
Difficulty with speech or swallowing
Cognitive impairments: difficulty with comprehension and learning new things
Difficulty focusing on tasks
Difficulty sleeping and restlessness
Depression and lack of motivation
Tremors and other movement disorders
Difficulty focusing and paying attention
Visual or auditory and olfactory hallucinations
Physical stroke symptoms
Confusion, difficulty with speech, and disorientation
Numbness on the side of the body
Information from this chart was obtained from Alzheimer’s.org.
How to Manage Projected Life Expectancy
Taking all the necessary steps and preparing for your dementia diagnosis can help ease the stress on family members, caretakers, and you. This way, you can plan for the future and be ready in the event that the situation takes a dire turn. Plus, preparing and planning before symptoms worsen can help you have the chance to clearly address pressing matters. This could include planning for a long-term caregiver, looking into life insurance, and estate planning.
Planning and managing your diagnosis ahead of time can help you make better-informed decisions about your health and those impacted by your diagnosis. Some of the common ways to prepare for the progression of symptoms include health care planning, revisiting your will, and determining who will legally make health decisions on your behalf in the event that you are not able to make your needs known.
While it can be difficult to think about what to do as symptoms worsen, it is empowering to have the opportunity to think about it before the day arrives. For instance, you may want to look into donating your body to science for research in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. As symptoms progress, you may also want to plan ahead and think about whether you will require long-term care at an assisted living facility, or if you would prefer self-directed care or hospice care.
Pro Tip: If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, read my 2021 guide to senior housing and care, which provides information on licensed and specialized dementia care, memory care, and Alzheimer’s care communities.
Life Expectancy by Stage of Alzheimer’s/Dementia
It can be difficult to figure out if a loved one is officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, especially when symptoms may be murky. In general, symptoms may change or worsen over time, even before any official dementia-related diagnosis.
If you are concerned about early-onset Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, you can speak with your physician and review your medical history and the concerns you may have about memory loss and other symptoms. After that, your physician will decide whether you require imaging tests or CT scans, or an MRI to get a better look at your brain for an Alzheimer’s or dementia marker.
FYI: Finding the right medical alert system for a loved one with dementia can be challenging. Read my list of medical alert systems for dementia to learn more about how these devices can help.
Another way to get an overview of the stages of dementia is the Global Deterioration Scale, a measurement and assessment tool for dementia. Developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg, the Global Deterioration Scale gauges the various stages and levels of severity for Alzheimer’s and other types of degenerative dementia. It also helps caregivers and individuals have a better understanding of the various stages of dementia.
Symptoms of dementia can range from mild to severe — with different clinical characteristics. The scale has stages from 1 to 7, with stages 1 through 3 marking the pre-dementia stages. In general, moderate cognitive decline or mild dementia starts at stage 4. Each stage describes some of the common characteristics or symptoms that an individual might experience as the disease progresses.
Typically, an individual who receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can expect to live eight to 12 more years, and some people exceed this. It all varies based on the individual’s underlying health conditions, lifestyle, early diagnosis, and other factors.
Dementia Life Expectancy Calculator
Estimated Life Expectancy
1: No Cognitive Decline
No evidence of memory deficit
2: Age-Associated Memory Impairment
Complaints of common memory deficits
Forgetting everyday things (ex: names, misplacing items, etc)
3: Mild Cognitive Impairment
Frequent memory deficits
Difficulty remembering names or finding the right words
Decreased performance at work
Increased social anxiety
4: Mild Dementia
Inability to recall current or recent events
Difficulty remembering personal past events
Difficulty making financial decisions
Difficulty recognizing individuals
5: Moderate Dementia
Inability to recall major events from their lives
Inability to recall personal information (e.g., home address, family members’ names, etc.)
6: Moderately Severe Dementia
Inability to recall most of the information about their past or recent events
Frequently forgetting the name of their partner/spouse
Inability to remember the current year
Mood and personality changes
Repetitive behavior such as cleaning
Inability to carry a conversation for a long period of time
4 years or less
7: Severe Dementia
Lack of verbal abilities or no speech
Requiring constant support and assistance with daily tasks such as going to the bathroom and eating
Loss of psychomotor skills such as walking
2.5 years or less
Making a Dementia Care Plan
Planning for dementia care is an important step to helping you or a loved one feel prepared for the future. While no life expectancy calculator is exact, it can give you an idea of what to expect before and after your dementia diagnosis. Fortunately, there are many steps that you can take to help plan for dementia care and put your mind at ease.
The first step is to speak with your physician and talk about your symptoms. Once you receive an official diagnosis, you’ll be able to plan. An early diagnosis can help you get a head start on the planning and dementia process in the event that your symptoms may worsen. You can also take this time to research and educate yourself on local and national dementia care resources, and familiarize yourself with the various stages and symptoms you might experience.
Empowering yourself with resources is an important step to dementia care planning. It’s also a good idea to plan around your support system and include them in your decisions. If you’re a caregiver, it’s a good idea to delegate tasks and go over a care plan so that you don’t experience caregiver burnout.
Lastly, it’s important to discuss legal and financial plans with caregivers or close family. It’s also a time to figure out if there is any aid or assistance in the form of Medicaid, Medicare, VA, long-term care insurance, or other resources for support in planning around dementia care. Being transparent with the family and having a close-knit support system can help individuals feel less isolated and more prepared for what’s to come before proceeding with an official caregiving plan.
Life expectancy for individuals diagnosed with dementia may vary depending on a number of factors But in general, those that are diagnosed at a later stage in their mid-80s might have a shorter life span than those living with dementia at 60 or 65 years of age. This is largely due to the fact that individuals in their 60s could have early-onset dementia and their cognitive decline may be at a slower pace than that of an 85-year-old.
In general, the life expectancy of an individual with dementia is around eight to 12 years after being diagnosed. However, this number isn’t set in stone, and many individuals diagnosed with dementia may live longer than this period.
Some of the common signs of end-stage dementia include difficulty swallowing, inability to walk or sit upright, cold hands and feet, restlessness, and overall deterioration.
Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here
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