There are more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. The term generally conjures up images of senior, and even elderly, people – certainly those over the age of sixty-five. But for a small segment of those diagnosed, Alzheimer’s presents as young as forty years old, in what’s referred to as Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Those five per cent are men and women in their forties and fifties, often still mid-career, living active lives with living active lives with growing families.
Signs and Symptoms:
An Early Onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be difficult to determine as it is relatively uncommon and symptoms in younger patients may be attributed to stress or other external factors. Here are some behaviors that can be indicators and that should be taken seriously, no matter what age they occur:
- Exhibiting extreme mood and personality swings, avoiding social events
- Difficulty concentrating on and completing regular daily tasks
- Misplacing objects or finding them in unusual places
- Vision problems or loss
- Difficulty following a conversation or repeating stories
- Losing track of dates and time
- Becoming more forgetful than normal and requiring frequent reminders
Possible Risk Factors:
Research is still inconclusive as to why some people are stricken by Alzheimer’s at such a young age. However, doctors have identified several rare genes that seem to occur in a small percentage of families that they’ve linked to Early Onset Familial Alzheimer’s – extremely rare, but perhaps a narrow path to identifiable and someday treatable precursors to the illness. Cases of Early Onset Alzheimer’s that are not familial are referred to as sporadic.
As with conventional Alzheimer’s, doctors have had some success with certain therapies that have helped maintain cognitive function in patients with mild or moderate symptoms. These medications cannot stop the progression of the disease; but in some cases, they can delay its progression long enough to give patients a meaningful window in which to enjoy reasonable levels of focus, memory retention, and attention.
Management of Symptoms:
Keeping the mind and body as healthy as possible is critical for someone diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Daily exercise, a heart- and brain-healthy diet, and staying mentally active and engaged are all key factors in managing the disease’s progression. Practically speaking, it’s also worth shifting to action mode around any plans or arrangements that still may need to be put in place, such as:
- Financial and estate planning
- Building a strong health care team
- Providing family members and caregivers with support resources
- Making sure the appropriate people have access to the information they need when the time comes
For more information on the disease and available support services, head to the Alzheimer’s Association.