Early Onset: Alzheimer's Isn't Just For Old People
Of the five million people diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, as many as five percent were diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60. It’s called early-onset (or younger-onset) Alzheimer's. Dr. Bassem Elsawy, a geriatrics expert with Methodist Charlton Medical Center, explains in this edition of KERA’s weekly consumer health series, Vital Signs.
Who causes early onset Alzheimer's?
The Alzheimer's Association says doctors do not understand why most cases of early onset 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 is caused by deterministic genes, it is called “familial Alzheimer's disease,” and many family members in multiple generations are affected.
Diagnosing early onset Alzheimer's
Health care providers generally don't look for Alzheimer's disease in younger people, so getting an accurate diagnosis of early onset 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 with early onset may be in any stage of dementia – early, middle 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.
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