Early-onset Alzheimer's is an uncommon form of dementia that strikes people younger than age 65, according to Glenn Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Early-onset can run in families and has been known to start as early as one’s 30s and 40s, but usually does not happen until the mid-50s. Smith goes on to say that of all the people who have Alzheimer's Disease, only about five percent develop symptoms before age 65. So if four million Americans have Alzheimer's, at least 200,000 people have the early-onset form of the disease.
Research shows early-onset often runs in families. Many people with early-onset Alzheimer's have a parent or grandparent who also developed Alzheimer's at a younger age. There is no hard evidence to show that early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses at a faster rate than later onset.
The Alzheimer’s Association webpage shows how to tell the difference between signs of Alzheimer’s as opposed to signs of typical aging. With Alzheimer’s, there are memory lapses that involve forgetting what month or season it is, but with typical aging, you may forget the day temporarily. With Alzheimer’s, one may have a difficult time carrying on a conversation, but with typical aging, one may forget what word to use. The chart shows a good comparison between the two.
The Alzheimer’s Association website also lists 10 warning signs that should not be ignored. They include memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or problem solving, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding spacial relationships or visual images, new problems speaking or writing words, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, decreased or poor judgment, withdrawal from work or social activities and a change in mood or personality. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you know, consult a physician.
The Alzheimer’s Association statistics show that Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
There is no single cause for Alzheimer’s; however, major risk factors include age, family history and heredity. Of course, we have no control over these factors. New research shows there may be a connection between head injuries and later development of Alzheimer’s. Persons with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and vascular or heart disease may also be at a greater risk. Latinos and African-Americans are in the high-risk category.
While there is no definitive proof this disease can be prevented, the Alzheimer’s Association continues to fund studies on the influence of mental and physical fitness, diet and exercise on the development of Alzheimer’s.
Although there is no cure, treatment can relieve some of the associated symptoms. Treatment may involve medication, visits to a neurologists, psychologist or psychiatrist. A strong family support system is vital for someone with Alzheimer’s.
References: www.alz.org; www. mayoclinic.org
Pam Rasmussen is a resident of LaFayette. She is a mother of a child with Spina Bifida and an advocate of special needs children and adults. She can be contacted at email@example.com.