Usually we think of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as affecting seniors who are on up in years. It’s less well-known that 10 percent of people with Alzheimer’s have the early-onset variety. Early-onset Alzheimer’s can strike before 65 years of age. Of the more than 5 million people in the United States, almost 4 percent have early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Adults who have Down syndrome are prone to early-onset Alzheimer’s, with symptoms beginning to show in the middle or late 40s, or early 50s. Less commonly, early-onset AD can be seen in people who are only 30-40 years old. Other people who get early-onset Alzheimer’s disease often also have a genetic defect on chromosome 14. This is not the case for people with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It can run in families. If either of your parents, or any of your grandparents, for instance, had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, you may be at risk. Mutations in three genes can be involved. The three genes are the APP, PSEN 1, and PSEN 2. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is also often linked with myoclonus, which is a form of spasm and muscle twitching.
It appears at a time of life when things are busy and responsibilities are heavy, with work, raising children and possibly caring for parents with health problems. Because early-onset Alzheimer’s is often misdiagnosed, people suffering from AD can run into added troubles. They may lose their jobs, relationships may be damaged, since their medical condition has not been properly identified.
Loss of income because of not being able to function at work compounds the difficulties. Family may not be understanding or supportive about what is going on. Medical benefits and programs for social support are less available for someone with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Do you think you or someone you love may have early-onset Alzheimer’s? You can see a doctor who specializes in AD for a medical exam, brain imaging, cognitive tests, and a neurological exam. Diagnosis is far from a science. Diagnoses are basically a process of elimination and somewhat of a guessing game.