Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading type of Dementia that affects more than 6 million people within the United States. Alzheimer’s typically affects those that are 65 years and older, but up to 5 percent of those living with Alzheimer’s have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s; this is also known as younger-onset. Generally, people are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is one type of Dementia that affects your memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common form of Dementia and the 6th leading cause of death within the United States.
Alzheimer’s is a disorder within your brain that affects your thinking and memory skills. It progressively gets worse and makes it difficult to carry out simple everyday tasks.
Scientists have concluded that Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain about ten years before seeing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Abnormal build-ups of proteins form amyloid plaques and tangles that stop the healthy neurons from functioning correctly. They lose connections and die over time. This takes place in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex and then spreads from there. Eventually, as the neurons die, the brain is affected. It begins to shrink, causing widespread damage that affects most of the brain tissue.
What is early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease typically affects older adults, but it can affect younger individuals as well. Anytime Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in someone younger than 65, it is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s, or younger-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Early-onset Alzheimer’s has been seen in individuals in their 30s or 40s.
Very few individuals living with Alzheimer’s have younger-onset Alzheimer’s (less than 5%).
In most cases, most types of younger-onset Alzheimer’s Disease is the same, but there are some distinctions.
- Common Alzheimer’s Disease. This is the most common form of Alzheimer’s Disease. It progresses in the same way it does with those living with Alzheimer’s that are older.
- Genetic Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a very rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease. This is when Alzheimer’s is caused by the genes of individuals. Those with Genetic Alzheimer’s will start to see symptoms in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.
What causes early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease?
It is somewhat of a mystery to scientists as to what causes early-onset Alzheimer’s. A common theory is that 2 proteins damage and kill the nerve cells.
At first, they damage the brain’s memory areas but then spread to many other portions of the brain. Fragments of the protein then cause build-up called plaques. Twisted fibers of another protein are called tangles. Everyone develops these plaques and tangles as you get older, but those living with Alzheimer’s develop many more than those without Alzheimer’s Disease. Experts don’t know why some develop so many plaques and tangles or at younger ages.
When diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s, it is usually pretty shocking for individuals that are diagnosed with it. It means planning now for big life changes in the future to stay safe and get the care they need.
Can Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease be prevented?
Experts don’t know how of one certain way to prevent early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. With that being said, early detection of Alzheimer’s can lead to better treatment and earlier treatment to help manage symptoms.
It is always a good idea to look for early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms and consult your healthcare provider if you see any.
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease are pretty typical of those with late-onset Alzheimer’s. It begins with minor memory problems and then gets worse over time and eventually affects your ability to manage your daily life.
These early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms include:
- Forgetfulness. This includes forgetting where you place things such as remotes, keys, and phones.
- Confusion with time. Alzheimer’s patients often struggle with the concept of time. They may forget what day of the week it is or how long it takes to go to someplace that they go regularly.
- Repeating statements and questions. Since the part of the brain that houses your memories is the first place affected by Alzheimer’s, it is common for those living with Alzheimer’s to repeat themselves because they don’t recall asking the question or sharing their thoughts.
- Getting Lost. People with Alzheimer’s Disease struggle with visual and spatial abilities. These problems can create other issues such as getting lost while driving, getting lost while walking around the neighborhood, or even in the store they have shopped at for years.
Thinking and Reasoning
Inability to do complex tasks. Alzheimer’s affects your ability to do complex tasks that you have done repeatedly, such as following a recipe or balancing your checkbook. This includes playing a familiar game that has several rules.
Judgment and Decisions
Impaired judgment. People with Alzheimer’s struggle with maintaining good judgment. This includes making appropriate decisions. This can be simple things like wearing a heavy coat when it is 100 degrees outside or bigger concerns like not recognizing right away when they need to see a doctor for a life-threatening disease.
Individuals living with early-onset Alzheimer’s may see these symptoms as well.
- Social Withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Not trusting others
- Becoming more irritable
- Becoming more aggressive
- Changes in sleep patterns
Diagnosing Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
Since early-onset Alzheimer’s is rare, it is not a typical diagnosis given to individuals under the age of 65, thus sometimes making it a frustrating and challenging process for those with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Health care providers often attribute the symptoms that are being seen in these individuals to stress. With that being said, it is important for those living with early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms to advocate for proper treatment and a proper diagnosis. It is crucial to get the correct diagnosis so that you get adequate treatment as well as for personal and professional reasons.
There is no single test that will confirm you are living with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease; however, there are several things your healthcare provider can do to check if you have it.
- Medical history. The first thing your healthcare provider should do is ask about your medical history. This includes symptoms that are bothering you as well as your family history. You may take some tests to check your memory and see how you solve certain problems.
- Testing. It is possible you may undergo image testing. You may have an MRI, a CT scan, or a PET scan. These look for changes in the brain and help rule out other symptoms. They also will want to rule out other symptoms that could mimic the symptoms of early stage Alzheimers.
- Gene Tests. Your healthcare provider may suggest certain tests to look for changes in your genes linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Consulting with your Healthcare Provider
When you visit with your healthcare provider, you want to get the most out of your visit. To do so, you may want to consider these tips before going to the doctor.
- Know the reason you are visiting the doctor. This helps the appointment stay on task to get the most out of your visit.
- Write down your questions. When visiting your healthcare provider, it is easy to forget all of your questions, so to ensure you get all your questions answered, write them down and take them with you to your appointment.
- Bring a loved one. Bring a loved one with you to your appointment. This helps ensure you get all your questions answered as well as helps you remember what your healthcare provider tells you.
- Write down what the doctor says/ get a care summary. While at the appointment, be sure to write down any new information your healthcare provider tells you. This includes a new diagnosis, new treatment plans or options, new medicines, or tests that they want you to get done. Be sure you have them print your care summary so you can take that home with you as well.
- Understand the medicines that are prescribed. You must understand the new medications that are prescribed. What are the medications going to help with? Also, talk about potential side effects so that you can be well informed before starting them.
- Alternative Treatments. Know your options and ask your doctor if there are alternative treatments available.
- Follow-up appointments. Schedule any tests or follow-up appointments. Write them down, including the time, date, and location.
How Do You Treat Younger-onset Alzheimer’s?
Like Alzheimer’s Disease, younger-onset Alzheimer’s has no cure. Healthcare professionals are becoming more and more successful in helping maintain mental functions, control specific behaviors, and slow the progression of the disease.
While medications have mixed results, they may be able to help people with symptoms. Always discuss options with your doctor and see what they recommend, if any. These medications include:
Working with a therapist in your area can help with behavioral issues that those living with Alzheimer’s are currently struggling with.
Physical Activity & Healthy Diet.
Staying active and maintaining a healthy diet can help slow the progress in early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Researchers continue to research and learn new things on various things that can help slow or manage Alzheimer’s Disease.
How to Cope With Early-Onset Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a life-changing diagnosis for any age. Still, early-onset Alzheimer’s creates substantial challenges with jobs, relationships, and more, including income loss if you are still employed.
What to Do at Work?
When you are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, it is important to talk with your employer early. Talk with them about
- If you can switch to a job that better suits your current life
- Learn about any programs that are available through your employer to help.
- Explore other benefits under the Americans with Disability Act, COBRA, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- If you are stressed and overwhelmed, consider taking some time off or reducing your hours.
What to Do in your Relationship?
When you are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, it is normal for both partners to feel a sense of loneliness as they contemplate the future. As early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses, your romantic partner usually turns into a caregiver, which stresses the relationship. Try to
- Communicate. It is crucial to keep open lines of communication with one another. Communicate what each of you needs from each other, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Continue to do things together. This includes going on dates and strengthening your relationship with one another. Find new activities that you both enjoy doing together.
- Find a counselor. Find a counselor that can help you with the ongoing changes in your life and relationship.
Involving your Kids
When diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, it can be difficult for your children to understand. Children may begin to blame themselves or shy away because they do not know what to do. Try to:
- Find things that you can do with your kids. Spend special time with each one of them.
- Continue to communicate with them. Talk with them and explain to them what is happening.
- Plan Fun Outings. If you are in the early stages of early-onset Alzheimer’s, try to plan fun outings that you can do to create memorable experiences that they can remember.
- Talk to the School. Notify the school that your children go to so that the counselors are aware of the situation.
- Support groups. Find a local support group for your kids to attend.
- Counseling. Think about getting your child some counseling appointments if needed.
- Share Memories. Record videos, journal entries, and other thoughts that you want your kids to remember. If your children are little, think about including thoughts to have someone share with your kids at special events such as graduations, weddings, and the birth of their children that you will want them to remember.
Those living with early-onset Alzheimer’s will often have to quit work at some point. Finances will get tighter, and the family dynamic will shift, especially if your partner has to quit their job to become a full-time caretaker.
Most programs and medical benefits will not offer support for early-onset Alzheimer’s until the age of 65. Special waivers need to be filled out to qualify for these programs sooner.
- Talk with your financial planner to help plan for the future.
- Find out if early retirement is an option.
- Talk with the local Social Security and Medicare office to see if you qualify for services.
- Organize all financial paperwork and get it in order for a family member to begin helping with your finances.
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Preparation
If you are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, it is crucial to prepare now.
Those living with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease will want to consult with a lawyer to assign someone to be “power of attorney” for them. This person will make all your health decisions as well as money decisions when you no longer can.
You will also want to start thinking about the future health costs that are to come. You will need to consider getting proper safety equipment as well as hiring a caregiver to help you.
Those living with early-onset Alzheimer’s also will want to build a great support network. This includes family, friends, neighbors, health professionals, occupational therapists, and others that can help you. Your family and your health care professional can help you build a team that can help you with your early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Key points to remember about early-onset:-
- Alzheimer’s typically affects those over the age of 65, but early-onset Alzheimer’s can affect people in their 30s.
- Early-onset Alzheimer’s affects your memory, behavior, and thinking
- There is no cure, but an early diagnosis can help with treatment and plan for the future.