Early-onset Alzheimer’s can affect every aspect of a young person’s life, including their relationships, finances and ability to live independently.
The National Institute on Aging defines Alzheimer’s disease as a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and an individual’s ability to think. The majority of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are 60 and older, which can give the impression that the disorder is exclusive to the elderly. However, younger adults are not immune to the disease, and a small percentage of individuals under 60 could be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The prevalence of early-onset Alzheimer’s (sometimes referred to as “young-onset Alzheimer’s”) is unknown. However, early-onset Alzheimer’s can affect every aspect of a young person’s life, including their relationships, finances and ability to live independently. Such consequences underscore the significance of greater recognition of the condition and what it entails.
What is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease?
The experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine note that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and it most often affects older individuals. But in rare cases individuals under 60 can develop Alzheimer’s, and Johns Hopkins notes such instances generally affect people in their 40s and 50s. Most types of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are the same, but cases may be categorized as common or genetic Alzheimer’s.
• Common: Johns Hopkins notes that most people with early-onset Alzheimer’s have the common form of the disease, which progresses in much the same way as it does in older individuals.
• Genetic: In rare cases, a young person may be diagnosed with genetic, or familial, Alzheimer’s. The United Kingdom-based Alzheimer’s Society notes that this is caused by genetic mutations that run in families. The risk that this mutation will be passed from parents to children is 50 percent. Individuals who develop genetic Alzheimer’s typically have lengthy family histories of the disease and may know several relatives, in addition to a parent, who were affected at a similar age.
What are the risk factors for early-onset Alzheimer’s?
Though people who develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are most likely to be diagnosed with the common form of the condition, family history of the disease remains the only known risk factor.
What are the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s?
The Alzheimer’s Association® notes that health care providers do not generally look for Alzheimer’s in young people, which can make the process of diagnosing the condition long and frustrating. Symptoms are often attributed to other factors, such as stress.
However, Johns Hopkins reports that the presence of these symptoms could indicate a person is in the early stages of early-onset Alzheimer’s:
• Forgetting important things, particularly newly learned information or important dates
• Asking for the same information again and again
• Trouble solving basic problems, such as keeping track of bills or following a favorite recipe
• Losing track of the date or time of year
• Losing track of where you are and how you got there
• Trouble with depth perception or other vision problems
• Trouble joining conversations or finding the right word for something
• Misplacing things and not being able to retrace your steps to find it
• Increasingly poor judgment
• Withdrawal from work and social situations
• Changes in mood and personality
Symptoms such as memory loss and behaviorial changes, including severe mood swings, are some of the signs that present as early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is a rare disorder. But its effects can be just as significant as forms of the disease that affect older individuals.