Most people associate Alzheimer’s disease with older people, but it can happen to young and old alike. Roughly 200,000 in the U.S. have early onset Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If a young member of your family was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you’re most likely surprised and a bit worried. In a case like this, it’s not uncommon to wonder how this happened and what the long-term impact will be for him or her. Here’s everything you need to know about early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates this particular type accounts for 60% to 70% of dementia cases. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, which usually occurs after a stroke. Alzheimer’s gradually destroys memory and cognitive skills and, over time, the ability to perform simple tasks.
Early onset is not common
Most people with Alzheimer’s are diagnosed in their mid-60s. Although young people can have Alzheimer’s, it’s relatively rare. Just 5% of patients develop symptoms of the disease before the age of 65, according to Mayo Clinic researchers. Consequently, it is more likely to be misdiagnosed since a medical professional may not immediately suspect Alzheimer’s disease in a younger patient.
Memory loss isn’t the only sign
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is cognitive impairment, such as memory loss and confusion. However, there are other signs of the disease that could signal something is wrong. These include having difficulty planning or solving problems, difficulty with words or speaking, misplacing things, and poor judgment.
Family history makes you more vulnerable
The cause of early-onset Alzheimer’s is not known, but researchers assert family history might play a role. Some with early-onset Alzheimer’s have a type of the disease called familial Alzheimer’s disease. They are more likely to have multiple family members who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease early in life. Early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease refers to families in which symptoms appear before 60 to 65 years of age, most commonly before age 55.
You can get tested for early-onset Alzheimer’s risk
Researchers have discovered early-onset Alzheimer’s that runs in families has been linked to three genes — APP, PSEN 1, and PSEN 2. These genes only account for around 1% of all Alzheimer’s cases but 60% to 70% of early-onset Alzheimer’s cases, according to Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, if testing reveals you have a genetic mutation in one of the three genes, you are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s before age 65. Experts recommend seeing a genetic counselor before pursuing genetic testing for these mutations.
When to see a doctor
If you or a loved one has been having noticeable memory problems or other symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor. There is a possibility you or your loved one could have another medical condition that has similar symptoms. Since young people are often misdiagnosed, it’s best to talk to a professional so that a proper diagnosis can be made.
Know that you are not alone. There are organizations and resources available to make this challenging time a little easier. Here are some helpful resources to assist you with learning more about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
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