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Cognitive decline key factor in predicting life expectancy in Alzheimer’s disease

by Medically Speaking

Cognitive decline is the biggest factor in determining how long patients with Alzheimer’s disease will live after being diagnosed, according to a new study from researchers at UT Southwestern. The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, are a first step that could help health care providers provide reliable prediction and planning assistance for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

Using a National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center dataset on 764 autopsy-confirmed cases, C. Munro Cullum, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurological Surgery, and first author Jeffrey Schaffert, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in clinical neuropsychology at UT Southwestern, identified seven factors that helped predict life expectancy variances among participants. These factors are the most predictive of how many years of life remain after diagnosis.

“Life expectancy for patients with Alzheimer’s disease typically ranges from three to 12 years but can be longer in some cases. Families are anxious to know what to expect and how to best plan for the time ahead in terms of finances, family caregiving, and how they want to live out their lives,” said Dr. Cullum, a neuropsychologist Investigator in the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute who specializes in cognitive assessment. “We’re trying to get them better answers.”

Of the many variables studied, performance deficiencies on a brief cognitive screening test that focuses on orientation was the most significant predictor, accounting for about 20% of the variance in life expectancy. This was followed by sex, age, race/ethnicity, neuropsychiatric symptoms, abnormal neurological exam results, and functional impairment ratings.

“We found that beyond global cognitive function, patients who were older, non-Hispanic, male, and who had more motor and psychiatric symptoms had a significantly shorter life expectancy,” Dr. Schaffert said.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

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