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Study: More Than One In 10 Over 65 May Have Alzheimer’s

May 3, 1995

CHICAGO (AP) _ A girl born last year who survives to an average life expectancy will have a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and a boy a one in 16 chance, according to a new study.

The survey of 1,601 elderly people in Boston also supports an earlier estimate that more than one in 10 people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s.

By age 90, according to the work published in Tuesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association, one in two people will develop Alzheimer’s.

``You can see what happens with the incidence of Alzheimer’s as we get older,″ said Dr. Denis A. Evans, one of the study’s authors and co-director of Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center.

``Our oldest age groups are our fastest growing age groups,″ Evans said. ``Unless we do something about it, we’re going to have an even more severe problem on our hands in a few years.″

The study followed a group of people 65 and older who were initially found to be free of Alzheimer’s disease, which robs people of their memories and their ability to function.

After about four years, the participants were re-evaluated, some with interviews and memory tests, others more extensively with neurological exams and psychiatric evaluations.

From those tests, the study’s authors determined that 4.7 percent of the population will develop Alzheimer’s by age 70, 18.2 percent by 80, and 49.6 percent by 90.

The study did not examine if women have a greater tendency towards Alzheimer’s, but women on average live longer. The average life expectancy for children born last year is 79 for girls and 72 for boys, according to the study.

A 1989 study that examined 3,623 people over 65 in Boston found that 10.3 percent of them had ``probable″ Alzheimer’s disease.

That study, which was led by Evans, prompted the National Institute on Aging to revise its estimate of how many people in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s from 2.5 million to 4 million.

``A lot of people have questioned those figures as being too high,″ said Dr. Creighton Phelps, director of the institute’s Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program. But he said the new study, which uses different methodology, confirms the 1989 figure.

Edward Truschke, president of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the study should cause Congress to think twice about cutting funds for Medicare, Medicaid and medical research.

``We face a major health care crisis if we don’t do something now to stop or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s,″ he said.

Also in Tuesday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association was a study on the driving skills of 13 people with mild cases of Alzheimer’s.

Compared to several control groups, they drove more slowly through a road test, had a lower mean drive score and committed more errors in the complex stages of the course.

The study called for regularly evaluating the driving skills of Alzheimer’s patients but not revoking driver’s licenses based on a medical diagnosis alone.

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