Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age. Younger-onset (also known as early-onset) Alzheimer's affects people younger than age 65. Nearly 4 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s have younger-onset.
Who gets early onset Alzheimer's?
Many people with early onset are in their 40s and 50s. They have families, careers or are even caregivers themselves when Alzheimer's disease strikes. In the United States, it is estimated that more than 200,000 people have early onset.
Diagnosing early onset Alzheimer's
Since health care providers generally don't look for Alzheimer's disease in younger people, getting an accurate diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's can be a long and frustrating process. Symptoms may be incorrectly attributed to stress or there may be conflicting diagnoses from different health care professionals. People who have early onset Alzheimer's may be in any stage of dementia – early stage, middle stage or late stage. The disease affects each person differently and symptoms will vary.
If you are experiencing memory problems:
• Have a comprehensive medical evaluation with a doctor who specializes in Alzheimer's disease. Getting a diagnosis involves a medical exam and possibly cognitive tests, a neurological exam and/or brain imaging. Call your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association for a referral.
• Write down symptoms of memory loss or other cognitive difficulties to share with your health care professional.
• Keep in mind that there is no one test that confirms Alzheimer's disease. A diagnosis is only made after a comprehensive medical evaluation.
Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age.
Causes of Early Onset Including Genetics
Doctors do not understand why most cases of early onset Alzheimer's appear at such a young age. But in a few hundred families worldwide, scientists have pinpointed several rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer's. People who inherit these rare genes tend to develop symptoms in their 30s, 40s and 50s. When Alzheimer's disease is caused by deterministic genes, it is called “familial Alzheimer's disease,” and many family members in multiple generations are affected.
Help is available for early onset Alzheimer's & Dementia
If you have early onset Alzheimer's you are not alone. There are many ways to stay active and involved. Join an Alzheimer's Association support group. Some groups are just for people with early-onset. Find a support group in your area.