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Posted: January 22, 2008

Dementia Patients Live Average of Four and a Half Years after Diagnosis

People with dementia survive an average of four and a half years after diagnosis, but their life expectancy is also influenced by the patient’s age, sex, and existing disability, according to a new British study.

The authors, describing their findings on bmj.com -- the online version of the British Medical Journal, said they hope these estimates will be of value to patients, caregivers, service providers, and policy-makers, all of whom are influenced by the factors that determine the length of survival.

The number of people affected by dementia is estimated to double every 20 years to 81 million by 2040. However, while dementia is known to be associated with an increased risk of death, there has been no estimate for actual survival time with dementia, the authors said, noting that there is also considerable uncertainty about what influences survival.

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As a result, researchers from the Institute for Public Health at the University of Cambridge in England set out to describe overall survival for people with dementia and to examine the association between factors that could affect survival.

The study involved more than 13,000 people age 65 years and older who were taking part in a population-based study in England and Wales. Participants were assessed for dementia at regular intervals over a 14-year period from 1991 to 2005.

Factors known to have an association with mortality, such as age, sex and marital status, living arrangements, education level, social class, self-reported health and disability were also recorded.

A total of 438 individuals developed dementia over the study period, of which the majority 356, or 81% -- died.

Age, sex, and disability before dementia onset all influenced survival rates independently, the researchers said. There was nearly seven years difference in survival between the youngest and the oldest people with dementia (10.7 years for those aged 65-69 and 3.8 years for those aged 90 or over), but on average, the researchers found that survival time from dementia onset to death was 4.1 years for men and 4.6 years for women.

They said they saw about a three-year reduction in survival between the most- and least-disabled at onset, suggesting that the more frail individuals are at higher risk, even after age is taken into account. However, living in the community or in a residential home, marital status, and self-reported health were not associated with survival once other factors were taken into account, the team reported.

Those with higher education had slightly shorter survival than those with lower education, but this did not reach statistical significance. Social class also showed no pattern in the research they added.

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