What is Early Onset Alzheimer's and Who Is at Risk?

What is Early Onset Alzheimer's and Who Is at Risk?

  • March 06, 2018

Most of us think Alzheimer’s is a disease that only older people develop. We picture adults in their 70’s and 80’s not people in their 40’s and 50’s suffering from the disease. But the reality is younger adults can develop Alzheimer’s, too. When a person under the age of 65 is diagnosed with the disease, clinicians call the condition early onset Alzheimer’s.

While the risk for developing early onset is low, only 200,000 of 5.3 million cases are people under the age of 65, Alzheimer’s disease remains the 6th leading cause of death in the United States

What causes early onset Alzheimer’s and what are the warning signs?

Here’s what you should know.

Understanding Early Onset Alzheimer’s

One of the greatest risks for developing early onset Alzheimer’s is having a family history of the disease. Researchers have identified several genes found in families that lead to what is referred to as familial Alzheimer’s. This type of early onset can impact people in their 30’s and 40’s.

Because early onset Alzheimer’s disease is not very common, it is easy to overlook the early symptoms. Even health care professionals might attribute the warning signs of the disease in a middle-aged adult to a hectic, stressful life.  Other health conditions that commonly mimic Alzheimer’s disease, such as a vitamin deficiency or a thyroid problem, may also delay the diagnosis.

Memory problems are probably the symptom most people associate with Alzheimer’s. As we grow older, it isn’t uncommon to have an occasional lapse in memory or to take longer to recall recently learned information. The difference is that the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disrupts daily life. People who are in the early stages of the illness often forget information and are not able to recall it later even if prompted.

Other changes in your personal health and well-being that should be discussed with your primary care physician include:

  • Mood swings and/or a change in disposition
  • Quick to anger or easily agitated
  • Forgetting important appointments, events, and dates
  • Changes in vision, especially problems with depth perception, color perception, and contrast sensitivity
  • Difficulty with organizing and planning skills
  • Poor judgment and challenges making good decisions
  • Repeating the same question over and over in a short amount of time
  • Confusion about date, time or current location
  • Lack of interest in social events and activities
  • Struggling to find the right words or to carry on a conversation

Diagnosing Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

As is true of Alzheimer’s that affects senior adults, there is no one test for diagnosing early onset. Instead, doctors make their diagnosis by eliminating other potential problems. The process will likely include: 

  1. Complete physical examination
  2. Blood tests and urine samples to rule out deficiencies and infections
  3. Cognitive tests and neurological exam
  4. Brain imaging, such as an MRI and CT scan

Memory Care at Five Star Senior Living

If someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease, helping them continue to live their best quality of life is probably one of your main goals. We share that goal. Our Bridge to Rediscovery Memory Care utilizes Montessori-based Dementia Programming to help adults with memory loss live productive days despite their disease. Call the Five Star community nearest you to learn more.

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