Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a medical condition. It is a disease of the brain and a form of dementia. This condition is sometimes called early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease affects people younger than 65 years of age. People who have early-onset Alzheimer’s may develop symptoms as early as their 30s or 40s. But most are in their 50s or 60s.
Early-onset Alzheimer symptoms include:
- Memory loss that affects daily life: Forgetting important dates or things you just learned or asking the same question over and over. Or you may rely more on reminder notes, technology, or other family members to remember things.
- Changes in the ability to follow a plan or solve a problem: This may include having trouble concentrating on a problem. It could also mean trouble following a plan, such as a recipe. Or maybe keeping track of regularly scheduled tasks, such as paying monthly bills.
- Changes in the ability to complete familiar tasks: Alzheimer’s dementia can make it hard to do the things that you used to do all the time. For example, it might be hard to do chores at home, run errands, or finish a routine task at work.
- Confusion about time or place: Examples include losing track of how much time has passed, the date or the day of the week, forgetting where you are and how you got there. If you are driving, losing track of where you are going or why you left home.
- Problems with vision or understanding visual information: Examples include trouble with reading comprehension, identifying colors, judging distances, or getting confused about what you see.
- Problems with words: This may include forgetting words in the middle of a conversation, repeating parts of a conversation, or calling things by the wrong names.
- Misplacing things: This could mean putting things in unusual places, losing things often, being unable to retrace steps to find a lost object, and even accusing others of stealing.
- Poor judgment: Examples include paying less attention to appearance or cleanliness. It could also mean using poor judgment with money, such as giving large amounts of money to solicitors.
- Withdrawal from activities: This could include social activities, work projects, or family gatherings. It may also mean abandoning a hobby, sport, or favorite activity.
- Changes in mood and personality: Becoming unusually confused, suspicious, upset, depressed, fearful, or anxious. This may happen when in new or unfamiliar places.
Path to improved health
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is not very common. Fewer than 5% of people who have Alzheimer’s disease have early onset.
The condition affects each person differently. But there are things you can do to stay active and involved in your own health care, with family and friends, and at work:
Take care of yourself
- Follow your doctor’s advice about diet and exercise. If you take medicine, be sure to take the right amount at the right time. Visit or talk with your doctor if you have questions about your health or treatment.
- Consider joining a support group. To find one near you, contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.
- Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Don’t keep it all inside. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to family or friends, you can always talk with your doctor, clergy members, or a professional counselor.
Be open with family and friends
- Talk to your spouse and/or other close family members about your thoughts, fears, and wishes. Your family can help you plan for the future, including decisions about health care and legal and financial issues.
- Talk openly with children about your disease. Understand that they may be feeling concerned, confused, upset, or afraid. If appropriate, involve your children in discussions and decisions that affect the whole family.
- Your friends or neighbors might not know how to react to your diagnosis. They may feel like they don’t know what to say or how to help and may be waiting for you to make the first move. Invite friends to spend time with you. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Manage your career
- Know that, as your symptoms progress, you may find it difficult to perform certain work tasks.
- Plan when and how to tell your boss, supervisor, or manager.
- Tell your manager if you would like to continue working and ask them to be flexible. Possibilities include working fewer hours, reducing responsibilities, or changing positions.
- Work with your human resources department to make sure you’re taking advantage of all your employee benefits. Research options such as early retirement.
Things to consider
There are some differences between early-onset and late-onset, Alzheimer’s disease, including:
- Genetics: In some people certain rare genes may cause Alzheimer’s’s symptoms to start early. The genes have often been passed down through family members and may affect several generations. This is why early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is sometimes called familial Alzheimer’s disease.
- Diagnosis: It may take longer for a doctor to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Even though the symptoms of early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease are the same, most doctors don’t look for or suspect it in younger people. If you are having memory problems, be sure to talk to your doctor about all your symptoms.
- Coping: Because people who have early-onset Alzheimer’s are younger, they may still be raising children, have jobs, and be active in the community when symptoms start. This can make it even harder to deal with the changes to family and personal life. People who have early-onset disease are more likely to feel angry, frustrated, and depressed.
Questions to ask your doctor
- When is forgetting normal and when is it part of early-onset dementia?
- Is there medicine I can take to slow the progression of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease?
- Can I be tested for familial Alzheimer’s disease when I’m young?
- Will early-onset Alzheimer’s disease shorten my life?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.