What Families Should Know about Early Onset Alzheimer's

  • July 20, 2017

Back in 2015, actress Julianne Moore won a Golden Globe award for her starring role in the movie Still Alice. Her character was a woman who had developed Alzheimer’s disease at the early age of 50. 

The film brought national attention to what’s known in the medical world as ‘Early Onset Alzheimer’s’. Still, however, most people know very little about this early-occurring version of the disease. 

Do You Have Questions About Early Onset Alzheimer’s?

If you’re like most people, you may have a lot of questions about early onset Alzheimer’s. 

For example, just how early can Alzheimer’s symptoms begin to appear? What are the symptoms? Who is at risk? 

We’ll try to answer those questions and more below.

What is Early Onset Alzheimer’s?

Early onset Alzheimer’s produces the same symptoms as traditional cases of the disease. Technically, any diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease that occurs in someone younger than 65 is classified as early onset. 

Early onset typically appears in people who are in their 40s and 50s although some people in their 30s have been diagnosed with the disease. 

The main difference between early onset and late-onset is that people don’t expect to be on the lookout for these symptoms when they’re younger. Therefore, the signs aren’t always recognized as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Early Onset Alzheimer’s Progresses Faster 

The second difference is that early onset is more aggressive than the late-onset form of the disease.  Last year, Pat Summitt, former Tennessee women’s basketball coach, died of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.   

She had struggled with the disease for five years, which is a much shorter time span than what most older sufferers experience. She was only 64 years old. 

Heredity Plays a Larger Role in Early Onset Alzheimer’s

Of all cases of the disease, including late-onset cases, heredity plays a direct role less than five percent of the time. In the late-onset form of the disease, the cause is not known. However, in early onset cases, scientists think the cause is hereditary

It’s important not to misunderstand these facts

Inheriting the genes for Alzheimer’s disease does not assure early onset Alzheimer’s. Scientists have simply noticed that, of the people who do have the early onset form of the disease, genetic mutations for Alzheimer’s did exist. 

Fortunately, the genes that signal early onset are rare. 

Symptoms Sometimes First Appear at Work

During her research for playing the role of Alice, Julianne Moore learned that very often, symptoms are first noticed at work. Her character, a linguistics professor, lost her train of thought while giving an important speech. 

Others she spoke to during her research first noticed symptoms at work, too. A Spanish teacher, for example, began periodically writing backwards on the board during class. That’s related to one of the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s listed by the Alzheimer’s Association: trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

Ms. Moore noted that, for many of the people she spoke to, it was only after colleagues noticed the symptoms at work that symptoms in personal life were noticed. 

Some Final Thoughts on Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Actress Julianne Moore brought international attention to early onset Alzheimer’s awareness. 

But what do we know about this type of Alzheimer’s? 

It’s rare, it’s probably genetic, it’s aggressive, and it displays symptoms that are usually first noticed at work. 

As researchers complete new studies on early onset Alzheimer’s, we’ll continue to learn more about this disease. It’s a particularly devastating form of the disease because it strikes when people are in their prime working years. And a time of life when they’re most likely to be raising a family of their own. 

Memory Care at Five Star Senior Living

Here at Five Star Senior Living in Indiana, several of our communities include memory care for residents who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. If you’d like to know more about how we build supportive communities for all our residents, please call to schedule a tour. 


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