Of all the life-threatening health issues people face, Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared.

A new survey by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found that regardless of age, Alzheimer's was the most feared -- more than cancer, stroke, heart disease or diabetes.

“The survey confirmed what our franchise owners have been hearing from their clients and families -- the majority of Americans feel unprepared to care for a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” said Jeff Huber, president and chief operating office of Home Instead Senior Care. “The need for support and education for these families is critical.”

The survey polled 1,200 Americans about their concerns associated with the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million Americans -- one in eight older adults -- are living with Alzheimer’s. In Nebraska, 37,000 people were living with Alzheimer’s in 2010, and that number is expected to climb to 39,000 by 2020 and 44,000 people by 2025.

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, but it is the only one among the top 10 causes that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed, according to the association. More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. That care is valued at $210 billion a year. Another $200 billion in paid care will be provided this year in the United States, the association says.

Among the key findings from the Marist survey:

* 63 percent of Americans have had a personal experience with someone with Alzheimer’s and/or a serious memory loss problem.

* 61 percent of Americans feel unprepared to care for a loved one diagnosed with the disease.

* If diagnosed with the disease, Americans most fear the inability to care for themselves, and burdening others (68 percent); followed by losing memory of life and loved ones (32 percent).

* 44 percent of Americans cite the illness as their most feared disease, compared to 33 percent who cite cancer.

* More than other generations, 56 percent of Americans over the age of 65 say they fear an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

* Americans are split 50/50 over whether it would be harder to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or care for someone with the disease.

Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.