Have you noticed your loved one occasionally forgetting what they were about to say or having difficulty recalling names and retrieving specific words? Maybe you’ve witnessed them misplacing items or becoming distracted. Typically, there is no need to fret. For the 40% of people over the age of sixty-five who experience age-related memory impairment, this type of forgetfulness can generally be chalked up to having a “senior moment.” Biological changes in the brain cause age-related memory impairment.
However, if your loved one is not considered a senior citizen and begins to notice more frequent forgetfulness, then a discussion with your family physician may be warranted. Of the over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, approximately 5% to 6% are under the age of sixty-five and have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, also known as younger-onset. The vast majority of those with early-onset begin showing signs in their forties or fifties and may be in the early, middle, or late stage of the disease.
Signs of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
The majority of people with early-onset have sporadic Alzheimer’s, meaning that it is not due to genetics and can be difficult to diagnose. In addition to early onset being rare, its symptoms can often be overlooked and attributed to stress or other factors. For those considered middle-age, signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s include:
- Forgetting important things, especially newly-learned information or well-known dates
- Trouble following basic directions
- Asking for the same information repeatedly and over a short time
- Trouble with depth perception and other vision issues
- Losing track of where one is or how they go there
Just like conventional Alzheimer’s, early-onset is progressive. Its later symptoms include:
- Trouble swallowing, walking or speaking
- Suspicion and paranoia
- Severe mood swings and changes in behavior
- Intensifying confusion about time and place, as well as life events
If you have suspicions that you or a loved one may be experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms, please reach out to your trusted family physician. There is no specific medical procedure to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s. Your physician will likely take a full family history and begin with a series of cognitive tests to assess memory, problem-solving, and other associated functions. While there are no known medical treatments for early-onset Alzheimer’s, some have had success in slowing down its progression with certain medications as well as physical activity, a healthy diet, and cognitive training.
It is necessary to build a support system of family and friends, trusted healthcare professionals, and caregivers to help navigate the highs and lows of an early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Looking into an early-onset Alzheimer’s support group may be a great place to start.