Newly released findings are expanding the conversation about early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, serving as a call to awareness and action for younger Americans.

A Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health Index, compiled in 2017, found that early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are impacting the lives of a growing number of Americans ages 30 to 64. Dementia is a general term for cognitive decline beyond typical age-related changes. Alzheimer’s disease – characterized by progressive brain deterioration, memory loss and an inability to independently care for oneself – is the most common form of dementia.

In 2017, about 131,000 commercially insured Americans under age 65 were diagnosed with either early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, a 200% increase since 2013.

A closer look at the data reveals the average age of someone in the commercially insured population living with either condition is 49, and women account for 58% of those diagnosed with early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease combined.

Diagnosis rates of early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the BCBS Health Index, are higher in the East, the South and parts of the Midwest – though both Nebraska and Iowa are on the lower end of the diagnosis rate spectrum:

• Iowa: 4.0-5.5 per 10,000 adults (ages 30-64)
• Nebraska: 5.6-7.1 per 10,000 adults (ages 30-64)

Looking specifically at early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, 37,000 commercially-insured Americans, between ages 30 and 64, were diagnosed in 2017, a 131% increase since 2013.

Among its conclusions, Blue Cross and Blue Shield says these health trends “indicate a need for a focus on appropriate care and support for individuals with either form of dementia and support for their caregivers as the disease progresses.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is on the job, supporting people living with dementia and their caregivers. The local chapter offers information, resources and a broad array of services throughout the progression of the disease, including a free, 24/7 helpline, 800-272-3900.

“Specialists and master’s-level clinicians offer confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public. In addition, we provide community education programs, support groups and early stage support groups and engagement activities,” says Sharon Stephens, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Nebraska Chapter.

The largest non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s research, the Alzheimer’s Association is also investing more than $185 million in more than 540 active best-of-field projects in 30 countries.

“Additionally, thanks to the incredible work of our Alzheimer’s Association advocates, federal funding for Alzheimer’s research has increased dramatically from $448 million in 2011 to $2.8 billion in 2020,” Stephens says. (Learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association’s impact here.)

Early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, include:

• Memory loss that disrupts daily life
• Challenges in planning or problem solving
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks or having a conversation
• Confusion with time or place
• Decreased or poor judgment
• Changes in mood and personality

If you notice one or more signs in yourself or another person, the Alzheimer’s Association says it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

On the side of proactivity and prevention, there is growing evidence that a combination of healthy lifestyle habits “is associated with better cognitive aging and less risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s,” says Daniel L. Murman, M.D., director of the Behavioral and Geriatric Neurology Program at University of Nebraska Medical Center.

That includes exercising regularly, engaging in “brain games” (including crossword puzzles, Sudoku or computer-based games), eating a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, and getting plenty of sleep.

While “these lifestyle suggestions still don’t have absolute proof,” Dr. Murman says there is enough evidence that “each, in general, contributes to improved wellness and, potentially, less development of disease, whether that’s dementia, Alzheimer’s or other diseases.”

Learn more about how the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index works.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is committed to ensuring members have the care they need for coronavirus (COVID-19). View the latest here.