TODAY   |  March 19, 2014

3.2 million women in US have Alzheimer’s

A report out this morning highlights the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on women. More than 5 million Americans live with the disease, 3.2 million of them women. NBC News’ chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman joins Savannah Guthrie to weigh in. NBC’s special anchor Maria Shriver reports.

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>> well, more than 5 million americans currently live with alzheimer's disease . a number that is expected to more than triple by the year 2050 . and this morning, a new report is out highlighting the disease 's dramatic impact on women , both as patients and caregivers. maria shriver underscored that connection with her 2010 shriver report and has details.

>> when you're in your mid-50s. you're looking at retirement and what's going to happen after you retire. john and i had a whole plan. and all of a sudden that was not going to happen.

>> for the last six years, angie has watched the man she loves slowly disappear. in 2008 , her husband john, a successful cpa was diagnosed with alzheimer's disease , leaving her as the full-time breadwinner and care giver and struggling to cope.

>> care giving is lonely. i was working, i was trying to manage the bills. i'm still trying to manage on one salary. and social security .

>> now, new data shows women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of this disease . according to the report released this morning by the alzheimer 's association, 60% of caregivers are women , more than double the number of men. 3.2 million women have alzheimer 's makes up more than half of all patients in this country.

>> age over 65, 1 out of 6 women will develop alzheimer's disease in comparison to 1 out of 11 men. that highlights women are at the epicenter of this disease in many ways.

>> when a woman reaches her 60s, she's twice as likely to develop alzheimer 's as she is to get breast cancer . and federal funding , well, it's ten times greater for cancer than alzheimer 's. for care givers like angie, the toll has been devastating.

>> my husband's gone. i'm a widow, and i have a child.

>> unable to care for john on her own, she recently moved him into a full-time facility not covered by their insurance. the monthly bills consumes 60% of her salary.

>> it's a big burden. there's not enough homes that are affordable. it's all on us. i just don't know what's going to happen.

>> "today," maria shriver , nbc news, los angeles .

>> we want to talk to dr. nancy snyderman who is nbc's chief medical editor.

>> good morning, savannah.

>> there's a lot that's interesting in this report. for you, what jumped out.

>> there's so many, i brought cards today, the numbers in this report from the alzheimer 's association are astonishing. let's talk about the big number. more than 5 million americans are living with alzheimer's disease . and it's projected that number's going to triple by the year 2050 . and the economic repercussions to society are huge. maybe as much as $500 million when you take into effect everything. so let's then go to number two. and that is a woman's lifetime risk. at 65, a woman's lifetime risk of developing alzheimer 's is 1 in 6. compare that to a man's lifetime risk, which is 1 in 11. and you may say, well, why the difference 1 to 6 and 1 to 11. it really has to do with life span . women still live longer. so since age is still the number one driving factor for developing alzheimer 's and because women are caregivers, the burden still falls to women and that's that 1.6 number. people think how do you die from alzheimer 's? it's because your brain stops telling your body what to do, and almost 500,000 people every year die from alzheimer 's. it's a significant number because there's no known cure for it. pharmaceutical companies are racing to try various treatments. there's nothing great out there. all we can do right now is some kind of early intervention with lifestyle. but, as we talk about the things that are going to get us in life. and you and i talk about breast and ovarian cancer over the years, it's important to remember that women are twice as likely to develop alzheimer 's as they are breast cancer , even though breast cancer gets the big --

>> that's what leaps off the page to me.

>> right. so breast cancer , obviously, can affect women all through their lifetimes, but is also age dependent. but to think that we focus so much on breast cancer and rightly so, alzheimer 's is twice as likely to hit --

>> there's information interesting about traumatic brain injuries and whether or not that can be an indicator or even perhaps a cause of early onset alzheimer 's.

>> so we've talked about traumatic brain injuries and concussions and the mild cognitive signs that can happen to people in their 60s as early precursors. but overall remember whatever's good for your heart is good for your brain. smoking, diabetes, heart disease , high blood pressure , all of the things that can hurt your heart and kidneys can bring on alzheimer 's early. take care of your heart, you have a better chance of preventing alzheimer 's.

>> big report.

>> thank you so much, appreciate it.