Early-onset Alzheimer dementia 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 disease or Alzheimer’s disease. Early-onset Alzheimer dementia affects a person younger than 65 years of age. People who have early-onset Alzheimer dementia 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: Examples include forgetting important dates or things you just learned; asking the same question over and over; or relying heavily 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, such as a math problem; following a plan, such as a recipe; or keeping track of regularly scheduled tasks, such as paying monthly bills.
- Changes in the ability to complete familiar tasks:Alzheimer 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: Examples include forgetting words in the middle of a conversation, repeating parts of a conversation, or problems with vocabulary, such as calling things by the wrong names.
- Misplacing things: Examples include putting things in unusual places, losing things often, being unable to retrace steps in order to find a lost object, and even accusing others of stealing.
- Poor judgment: Examples include paying less attention to appearance or cleanliness and using poor judgment with money, such as giving large amounts of money to solicitors.
- Withdrawal from activities: Examples include withdrawing from social activities, work projects, or family gatherings, or abandoning a hobby, sport, or favorite activity.
- Changes in mood and personality: Examples include becoming unusually confused, suspicious, upset, depressed, fearful, or anxious, especially when in new or unfamiliar places.
Path to improved health
Early-onset Alzheimer dementia is not very common. Fewer than 5% of people who have Alzheimer dementia 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 that you’d like to continue working as long as possible, and ask your manager 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 “regular,” or late-onset, Alzheimer dementia. Differences include:
- Genetics: Doctors and researchers have discovered that, in some people, certain rare genes may cause Alzheimer’s symptoms to start early. When genetics is the cause, the genes often have been passed down through family members and may affect several generations. This is why early-onset Alzheimer dementia is sometimes called “familial” Alzheimer dementia.
- Diagnosis: It may take longer for a doctor to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer dementia. Even though the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer dementia are the same as the symptoms for late-onset Alzheimer dementia, most doctors don’t look for or suspect Alzheimer dementia 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 dementia are younger, they may still be raising children, may have jobs, and may be active in the community when symptoms start. This can make it even harder to deal with the changes that Alzheimer dementia brings to family and personal life. People who have early onset disease are more likely to feel angry, frustrated, and/or 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 dementia?
- Can I be tested for “familial” Alzheimer dementia when I’m young?
- Will early-onset Alzheimer dementia 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.