This longitudinal study examined multiple factors that influence survival in a cohort of Alzheimer patients followed over two decades.
Time to death after symptom onset was determined in 641 probable AD patients who were evaluated annually until death or loss to follow-up, and information was entered into a longitudinal database. Date of death was available for everyone including those eventually lost. Baseline variables included age, sex, race, disease severity, a calculated index of rate of initial cognitive decline from symptom onset to cohort entry (pre-progression rate or PPR), years of education, and medical comorbidities (diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, coronary disease, cerebrovascular disease). Multivariable Cox proportional hazard regression analysis was used to analyze the baseline and/or time dependent association in Mini-mental Status Exam (MMSE) severity, Physical Self Maintenance Scale (PSMS), Persistency Index (PI) of exposure to antipsychotic and antidementia drugs, and psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions) with mortality.
Baseline covariates significantly associated with increased survival were younger age (p = .0016), female sex (p = .0001), and a slower PPR (p < .0001). Overall disease severity at baseline, medical comorbidities, and education did not influence time to death. Time-dependent changes in antipsychotic drug use, development of psychotic symptoms, antidementia drug use, and observed MMSE change were not predictive. In the final model the only time-dependent covariate that significantly decreased survival was worsening of functional ability on the PSMS (hazard ratio = 1.10; CI: 1.07-1.11).
In this large AD cohort survival is influenced by age, sex, and the development of functional disability during follow-up. The most important predictor of mortality was a faster rate of cognitive decline at the initial patient visit (PPR). The currently available antidementia drugs do not prolong survival in Alzheimer patients.