Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia commonly associated with older people. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease manifests before the age of 65. Alzheimer’s disease causes memory problems and various related symptoms. It is a progressive disease, which means that the symptoms get worse over time. It is the most common type of dementia. Experts estimate that early-onset Alzheimer’s disease accounts for less than 10% of all cases. It usually results from an inherited genetic characteristic. It most often appears when a person is in their 40s or 50s, but it can start as early as their 30s. There is currently no cure, but treatment can help manage symptoms and slow disease progression.
In this article, we discuss the 10 symptoms, causes and treatment options associated with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Signs and Symptoms of Early Onset Alzheimer’s
The main symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, but other changes can occur. Symptoms can also resemble those of other types of dementia, and other conditions can cause similar symptoms.
Here are some common symptoms:
1. Memory loss that interferes with daily activities
The most visible symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is often memory loss. A person may begin to forget recent messages or events in a way that is unusual for them. She may repeat questions, having forgotten either the answer or the fact that she has already asked them. It’s not uncommon for people to forget things as they get older, but in the case of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, it happens earlier in life, more often, and doesn’t feel normal.
2. Difficulty performing daily tasks
The person may have difficulty performing a familiar task. For example, she may have difficulty:
– going to the grocery store, restaurant or workplace
– follow the rules of a familiar game
– prepare a simple meal.
Sometimes people need help using new or unfamiliar things as they get older, like settings on a new phone. However, this does not necessarily indicate a problem. On the other hand, if the person has used the same phone for years and suddenly cannot remember how to make a phone call, they may be suffering from memory loss related to Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Difficulties with problem solving or planning
The person may have difficulty following directions, problem solving, and concentrating.
For example, she might have difficulty:
– follow a recipe
– follow the instructions for use of a product
– take into account bills or monthly expenses
Some people often have problems like these, but if they start happening when they didn’t happen before, it could indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Problems with vision and spatial awareness
Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes cause vision problems. Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes cause vision problems, which makes it difficult to judge distances between objects. The person may have difficulty distinguishing contrasts and colors or judging speed or distance. These combined vision problems can affect a person’s ability to drive. Typical aging also affects eyesight, so regular checkups with an ophthalmologist are essential.
5. Confusion about location and time
The person may experience confusion as to places or times. She may have difficulty keeping track of seasons, months, or times of day. She may be confused in an unfamiliar place. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, she may feel confused in familiar places or wonder how she got there. She may also start to wander and get lost.
6. Frequently losing items and not being able to retrace your steps
Most people lose items at some point, but they are usually able to find them by looking in logical places and backtracking.
However, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget… where they placed an object, especially if they placed it in an unusual place. She may also be unable to retrace her steps to find the missing object. This can be scary and lead the person to believe that someone is stealing from them.
7. Writing or speaking problems
The person may also have difficulty with words and communication. She may have trouble following or participating in a conversation, or repeating herself. The person may also have difficulty writing down their thoughts. She may stop in the middle of a conversation, unable to figure out what to say next. She may also have trouble finding the right word or naming things incorrectly. It’s not uncommon for people to sometimes struggle to find the right word. In general, they end up remembering it and no longer encounter this problem frequently.
8. Symptoms of Impaired Judgment
The person may show a change in their ability to make good decisions. For example, she may begin to:
– spending a lot of time doing unnecessary tasks
– not paying attention to personal grooming, including washing
– store things in unexpected places, such as keys in the refrigerator.
9. Mood or personality changes
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may begin to experience a change in mood. She may feel irritable, confused, anxious or depressed. She may also become disinterested in things she once loved. They may be frustrated with their symptoms or feel unable to understand the changes that are happening. This can manifest as aggression or irritability towards others.
10. Abandonment of social or professional activities
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the person may also stop participating in social or work activities that they previously enjoyed.
Diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s
If a person has one or more of the above symptoms, they should see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis can help slow the progression of the disease. There is currently no definitive test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, so the doctor will base his diagnosis on the observable symptoms. He can try:
– to ask certain questions to the person, for example on his place of residence, and to evaluate his answers
– talk with family members to find out about the person’s behavior.
– examine the personal and family medical history of the patient
– perform tests to rule out other possible causes, such as blood tests and brain imaging.
Causes of Early Alzheimer’s Disease
Early onset Alzheimer’s disease is most likely due to genetic factors. Some people are born with genetic changes in specific genes and develop early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. These changes cause the brain to produce toxic proteins that accumulate in the brain, forming clumps called amyloid plaques. Genes are passed from one generation to the next in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means that one only needs to inherit one copy of the altered gene from a parent to develop the disease. Often the parent has the same disease. Other people do not have these changes, and it is not known why some people develop this condition, but other genes may be involved.
Treatment of symptoms
Treatment focuses on symptom management, as there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Approaches may include:
– drugs to help with memory loss and possibly slow the progression of the disease
– treatments for insomnia
– behavioral therapy to make life easier for the person concerned and their relatives or caregivers
– counseling or medication to help manage depression or anxiety
– cognitive stimulation therapy, which can help memory, speech and problem solving
– assisted living.
Researchers are always looking for better treatment options.
Most people with Alzheimer’s disease can expect to live another 8 to 10 years after diagnosis, but the outlook varies from 1 to 25 years. This partly depends on the person’s age at diagnosis, with younger people generally surviving longer. The cause of death is often pneumonia, malnutrition or atrophy of the body.
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, but someone with a family history of the disease may have a higher risk of developing it.
Anyone who suspects that they or someone close to them is developing Alzheimer’s disease should talk to a doctor.