When you think of someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you’re more than likely imagining someone over the age of 65. And for the majority of the 5 million people living with this disease in the United States, they are. But a small group of people – about five percent of people with Alzheimer’s – develop symptoms of the disease much earlier than that.
“Early-onset Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects people in their 50s, 40s and sometimes even their 30s,” says Jimmy-Faye Griffin, Executive Director of YourLife™ of Tallahassee, a memory care community in Tallahassee, Florida. “While it’s a relatively rare phenomenon, it’s something to be aware of because it can be misdiagnosed very easily. After all, who expects a 45-year-old to have Alzheimer’s? That’s why it’s so important to know the symptoms so steps can be taken as soon as possible.”
Unfortunately, experts don’t yet know why some people develop the disease at such an early age. Many of these younger individuals come from families that don’t have a history of Alzheimer’s, or if they do, it’s “regular” Alzheimer’s that starts developing after age 65. However, there are some people who develop what’s called “familial Alzheimer’s disease.” These individuals are more than likely to have a close family member who also developed Alzheimer’s at a young age.
Although much about Alzheimer’s disease remains a mystery to us, researchers have successfully identified the genes that can increase or determine your risk for developing Alzheimer’s. If you have a family member, such as a parent, grandparent or sibling, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, consider speaking with your doctor about the pros and cons of getting genetic testing. Some individuals would prefer to be equipped with the knowledge they need to prepare for the future. Others may wish to pass for personal reasons.
“Even if you test positive for one of the genes that increase your risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop it,” says Griffin. “And if you don’t have the genes, that doesn’t mean you won’t develop Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.”
The Symptoms of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are exactly the same as the more “age appropriate” form, which is why it is so often misdiagnosed in younger individuals – after all, forgetting people’s names, not remembering why you went into a room or forgetting where you put your keys is a very common occurrence among people of all ages! However, if you or a loved one under the age of 65 are experiencing the symptoms listed below, it’s worth paying extra attention and visiting your family physician:
- Memory loss. The individual has difficulty remembering important events or dates, or repeats questions on a more frequent basis.
- Difficulty solving problems and planning. For example, if you’re having a hard time balancing your checkbook or keep forgetting to pay your monthly bills.
- Inability to complete everyday tasks. Your concentration is slipping, and tasks requiring critical thought take more time than usual.
- Not knowing what time it is or where you are. If a loved one loses track of dates, is confused about the passage of time or gets confused about where they are, this could be a symptom of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
- Loss of vision. Your loved one may experience difficulty reading or have difficulty judging distance, contrast or colors.
- Having a hard time finding the right words. Sure, we can all forget the name of that one actor who starred in that movie. But if you keep pausing in the middle of conversations, or if you forget to finish sentences, that’s cause for concern.
- Misplacing frequently-used items. Does your loved one stash everyday items in strange places? Does he or she forget where an item went, or do they instantly suspect someone is stealing from them?
- Becoming socially withdrawn. Individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s may begin bowing out of hobbies, work projects or social events they’ve normally enjoyed.
- Extreme mood swings and personality changes. You may notice that you’re becoming irritated when your routine is disrupted, or you’ve become more fearful, confused or depressed as of late.
If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis, contact an experienced physician. He or she will perform examinations, review your symptoms and rule out any other conclusions.
What To Do if You or A Loved One is Diagnosed With Early-onset Alzheimer’s
Getting the diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult for family members. While the first course of action will be the doctor prescribing helpful medications and ways to manage the symptoms, there are many things a younger person has to take into consideration compared to an individual over the age of 65.
It’s important to note that the disease will progress no faster or slower depending on the individual’s age. So once a diagnosis is made, generally a younger person will have several years of moving through the different stages. Still, it’s essential to begin putting plans in place as soon as possible, since early-onset Alzheimer’s may seriously disrupt your legal and financial future. Having plans in mind will also allow you and your loved ones to have peace of mind. Here are a few tips for helping inform and plan, following a diagnosis:
- If you’re still working, talk to your employer. Discuss if switching to a new position may be beneficial to accommodate your current or future limitations. Find out what types of assistance programs are available, and look into federal benefits afforded you such as COBRA, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
- Married couples will have to navigate the emotions and realities for their relationship. Consider finding a counselor or clergy member to help work through issues, speak to your spouse about what help you both need and continue to find activities you both can enjoy.
- If you have younger children at home, find a therapist or support group that is equipped to deal with these types of situations. You might also consider keeping some sort of record for them, whether video, written or audio.
- Financial issues are a common concern among those with early-onset Alzheimer’s and their families. Assistance programs are available, but younger individuals may require special waivers to qualify. You can also speak to a financial planner and attorney who specialize in elder care to get more targeted assistance.
For more information about early-onset Alzheimer’s and how to provide or receive support following diagnosis, please contact our team today at 850-250-5671.
Inspired ● Engaged ● Fulfilled
If someone you love is living with memory loss, you want the very best for them. You’ll find it at YourLife™ of Tallahassee. Because Memory Care is all that we do, we have the unique ability to focus all our energy, attention and resources into creating an environment that caters to each resident’s needs, preferences and abilities while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families.
We see each resident as an individual because we understand that each resident has their own story. Using this idea, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence while creating beautiful days. No matter how much care they need, our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists can provide assistance with all activities of daily living while providing reminders, guidance, support and cues. Even better, residents and their families experience true peace of mind knowing that expert care is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our personal touch doesn’t stop at our care. In fact, it’s only the beginning. We create days that leave residents feeling Inspired. Engaged. Fulfilled through our signature programming, YourStory. With individual experiences centered around each resident, engaging outings, services and amenities, activities, dining and more, we create opportunities to learn and pursue new endeavors. At YourLife™ of Tallahassee, everything was designed for you, but it is defined by you, creating a lifestyle that makes every day a joy. Contact us to learn more!