What Is Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease?
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a form of the progressive, memory-robbing brain condition that appears in people before the age of 65. It most often shows up when you're in your 40s and 50s. But it isn’t unheard of for people to get it as young as their 30s.
The diagnosis is usually shocking, and it means you need to plan now for big changes ahead so you'll be safe and get the care you need as time goes on.
Because Alzheimer's takes away your memory and your ability to think clearly and, ultimately, to take care of yourself, you'll need a strong support system. Turn to family, friends, and local chapters of the Alzheimer's Association, and other groups to get started making a plan for the rest of your life.
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms
The signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s are largely the same as those for the late-onset version of the disease. It starts with small memory lapses and problems with your brain function that get worse until they affect your ability to manage your daily life. Changes to watch for include:
- Forgetfulness, such as misplacing items, losing track of what day it is, or asking the same questions over and over
- Trouble calling up certain words or using the wrong word
- Problems with visual processing, like understanding what you read or judging distance
- Inability to do complex but familiar tasks, like following a recipe or balancing your checkbook
- Trouble with your normal work or household activities
- Getting lost
- Bad judgment
- Mood and personality changes
- Physical problems with speaking, swallowing, or walking
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Causes
Most experts believe that Alzheimer's disease is caused by a buildup of two proteins in the brain called amyloid anmd tau. Too much affects the way you think.
There's a lot that scientists still need to learn about why the disease starts early in some people. In some cases it runs in families and may be due to changes in genes that get passed to you from your parents.
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis
There isn't a single test that confirms you have early-onset Alzheimer's. But there are several ways your doctor checks to see if you have it.
First, they'll ask you about your medical history, including any symptoms that are bothering you now. You'll also take tests that check your memory and see how well you solve problems.
You may also get imaging tests that look for changes in your brain and can rule out other causes of your symptoms. They may include a CT scan, which is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures inside your body. Or you might get an MRI, which uses magnets and radio waves to create images. PET scans use tracers like flortaucipir (Tauvid) to map the brain and detect proteins associated with Alzheimers, but they are expensive and usually not covered by Medicare or insurance.
The doctor may also suggest tests that look for changes in genes that are linked to early-onset Alzheimer's.
How Do I Treat Early-Onset Alzheimer's?
Keep your body in good shape, too. Make sure you eat healthy food and get regular exercise.
- Donepezil (Aricept)
- Galantamine (Razadyne)
- Memantine (Namenda)
- Memantine-donepezil (Namzaric)
- Rivastigmine (Exelon)
These medicines can delay or improve your symptoms for a few months to a few years. They may give you more time to live independently.
Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Preparation
There are plans you can start making now that will be a big help later. For example, meet with a lawyer to learn about the arrangements you'll need. Giving someone "power of attorney" lets the people you love make health and money decisions for you when you can no longer do that on your own.
It's also a good idea to think about how you'll pay for some of your future health costs. Some things to consider are safety equipment you'll need at home or getting help from a professional caregiver. Get your family together to talk about your finances and how much money you're likely to need to get proper care.
Now is also the time to start building your team. Lots of different people will be on it. Your relatives, friends, neighbors, and health professionals all have a role. Your family and your doctor can help you put a group together.
The important thing is to figure out what you want, make a specific, realistic plan, and to let people around you know.