Will Everyone Get Alzheimer’s If They Live Long Enough?

Rates of Alzheimer’s and other age-onset diseases are projected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

Science is stretching the human lifespan ever longer, and the rate of age-related diseases is increasing.  As medicine and modern health sustain our lives, can we now expect diseases of aging—such as Alzheimer’s disease—to eventually afflict everyone?

Dr. Leonard Guarente, who studies the biology of aging at MIT, believes there is a small segment of the population that could live remarkably long without ever developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  He gives as evidence what is currently known now about centenarians: “Many of these people are in quite good health physically and mentally and have evidently escaped from all of the major diseases, including Alzheimer’s,” he says.  

Yet, Dr. Guarente is quick to add: "It’s certainly true that many, many people, maybe most people would get Alzheimer’s" if normal aging could be extended to 120 or even 150 years.  From a societal point of view, he says, “most people would be vulnerable"—even if a segment of the population escapes the disease entirely. 

Americans over 85 years old currently constitute the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, making it likely the Alzheimer’s and other age-onset diseases will increase dramatically in the next few years.  State-by-state projections of the increase in the disease from 2010 to 2025 demonstrate this phenomenon. Large-population states are set to see the number of citizens with the disease increase dramatically during this time. In California, the number of people with Alzheimer's will increase from 480,000 to 660,000 between 2010 and 2025; in Florida it will rise from 450,000 to 590,000; and in Texas the number will rise from from 340,000 to 470,000 people. 

More Resources

—"Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, 2010," Alzheimer's Association.

—Big Think Interview with Aubrey de Gray, Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation on the fight to end aging. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the participants, and do not represent the views of Big Think or its sponsors.

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