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5 things you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, announced she has the beginning stages of dementia and “probably Alzheimer’s disease.”

The 88-year-old woman announced the diagnosis in a letter. “While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life. How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country. As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,” she wrote.

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O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and took her seat on the court in 1981. She was 75 when she announced her retirement from the court in 2005.

Millions of people across the world are living with Alzheimer's and other dementia. Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Here are five things you need to know about the disease:

1. It’s incredibly costly

Early and accurate diagnosis could save up to $7.9 trillion in medical and care costs, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In 2018, Alzheimer’s and other dementia will cost the nation about $277 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion.

2. Millions are living with it

Approximately 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million. Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

3. And millions die from it

It is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and about one in three senior citizens die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from heart disease decreased by 11 percent, but deaths related to Alzheimer’s disease increased 123 percent.

4. There are many signs and symptoms

Memory loss that disrupts daily life could be a symptom of something much more serious. Alzheimer’s symptoms include: Challenges in planning or solving problems; difficulty completing familiar tasks; confusion with time or place; trouble understanding visual images; new problems with words; misplacing things; poor judgment; changes in mood or personality; withdrawal from work or social activities.

5. How can people help end Alzheimer’s?

Thousands of advocates help influence national policy and create widespread awareness of this devastating disease with the Alzheimer's Association. You can also make a donation to The Longest Day or Walk to End Alzheimer's in cities across the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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