The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s can gradually impair memory and thinking skills. These symptoms eventually become severe enough to interfere with daily activity. Typically, individuals over 65 are mostly affected by Alzheimer’s; however, it can also affect people in their 30s and 40s. The term “early-onset” (or “younger-onset”) Alzheimer’s refers to Alzheimer’s that develops in people younger than 65.
Symptoms of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
In most cases, the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s are similar to those of late-onset Alzheimer’s
- Being forgetful, such as misplacing valuable objects, losing track of the date or time of year, or asking the same questions repeatedly
- Having trouble completing basic daily tasks, such as paying bills or planning events
- Having difficulty engaging in conversations or finding the correct words when speaking Having issues with visual processing, such as difficulty reading or assessing distance
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Poor judgment
- Changes in mood and personality
- Physical problems with speaking, swallowing, or walking
Possible causes of early-onset Alzheimer’s
Researchers do not yet understand why most cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s develop at such a young age. Recently, researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that there might be three single-gene mutations associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s: APP, PSEN1 and PSEN2. These genes’ mutations cause abnormal proteins to be produced in the brain, which are linked to the disease. A child has a 50/50 chance of getting a genetic mutation if his/her biological mother or father has the mutation for one of these three genes. The likelihood of the child developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is high if the mutation is inherited. In some other Alzheimer’s cases, researchers found that other genetic contributors might be also involved. Therefore, more research needs to be done to investigate the causes of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
How can early-onset Alzheimer’s be diagnosed?
Getting an accurate diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s can be a time-consuming and stressful process because doctors typically don’t check for the disease in younger individuals. It is also possible that symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s might be misdiagnosed as stress-related disorders. Additionally, disease symptoms can vary across different individuals. If you are dealing with memory or thinking problems, the following steps may be helpful:
- Meet with a doctor who specializes in Alzheimer’s for a comprehensive medical evaluation which may involve cognitive tests, a neurological exam and/or brain imaging.
- Write down symptoms of memory or thinking problems and share them with health care professionals.
- Keep an eye on your symptoms and contact your doctor if there are any sudden changes.
Coping with early-onset Alzheimer’s can be challenging. It is important to have a positive mindset and keep yourself active and mentally engaged. At the same time, do not hesitate to seek help from friends and family as they might be the one who can provide valuable support.