Alzheimer's disease is a devastating illness that causes loss of intellectual skills, memory, sociability and other vital mental capabilities. Even with early-onset disease, individuals will experience changes that affect their daily lives. The most common form of the disease is late-onset but is important to recognize the early signs and symptoms of the illness so proper treatment can be administered.
What Is Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease?
As little as 5% of Alzheimer’s patients suffer from the early-onset form of the disease. It is considered early when it affects an individual under the age of 65. It is very uncommon, but it does happen. Symptoms can be seen as early in the 30’s but usually rare themselves between 50 and 60 years old.
Symptoms of Early Onset Alzheimer's
The symptoms can include:
- Everyday memory problems that interfere with daily life. It can be as simple as forgetting a message or a recent gathering.
- Subtle changes in behavior or personality.
- Loss of sense of time, disorientation and confusion.
- Difficulty communicating with speech.
- Difficulty determining distance or speed and recognizing words.
Does It Progress More Aggressively?
Every person experiencing Alzheimer’s suffers differently from the disease. Studies have shown in some cases, the disease will progress more aggressively and faster. But there is no conclusive evidence that this is always the case. Because it is more difficult to diagnose the disease, it is detected later so the progress may just appear more aggressive.
How Does Early Onset Alzheimer’s Differ from Late-Onset Alzheimer’s?
The difference of early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s is far more than just when the disease starts. There are several other differences, which include:
Genetics: Early-onset Alzheimer’s is sometimes caused by rare genes passed down in a family. It is referred to as familial Alzheimer’s because it can often be seen in several members across many generations.
Diagnosis: Even though early-onset symptoms are basically the same as late-onset Alzheimer’s, they are often missed because physicians typically do not consider the disease in younger individuals. It is important to speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, especially memory loss.
Coping: It is often harder for individuals to cope with Alzheimer’s because they may be young enough to still be working, be an active participant in the community and may even still have children at home. Because of this, individuals suffering from this disease experience greater frustration, anger and depression.
How Is Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosed?
Often, your physician will ask you a list of questions or run through tests to determine if you may be suffering from the disease. These include:
- Inquiring about your symptoms and medical history.
- Questions about your mood.
- Contacting someone close to you to discuss your symptoms.
- Conducting a physical check-up.
- Administering a standard pen-and-paper test to check your language, social, memory, and problem-solving abilities.
Over a course of 6 to 12 months, these tests may be administered again to track any changes. Since symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s can be mild, looking for subtle changes often help in diagnosing the disease.
Other tests you may undergo include blood tests and brain scans. If there is an underlying illness causing the memory loss and other cognitive disorders, these diagnostic tests may help detect them.
If it is determined you have Alzheimer’s, you have several treatment options. Even though there is not a cure for the disease, medications may slow the progress of the illness and relieve the severity of symptoms. A support group or source can also be instrumental in helping you cope with the changes that will occur in your life.
Tips for Living with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease
Coping Skills for Yourself
- You will experience bad days and good days. Concentrating on the good days will help you cope.
- Join a support group. You are not alone in your struggle. There are several resources available for individuals dealing with having Alzheimer’s.
- Do not let your health deteriorate. Continue to see your doctor on a regular basis and follow instructions on exercise, diet and medication.
- Go to a professional counselor to express your feelings. Share your fears and worries with a clergy member, family or friends. Whatever you do, don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside.
Helping Family and Friends Cope
- Talk to your partner or spouse about the future and concerns like caregiving needs, finances, intimacy, taking care of your home and even children. Make decisions ahead of time while you still can.
- Encourage your family to consider joining a support group for caregivers and family members.
- Tell your children you have Alzheimer’s, about the symptoms you may experience and changes that will occur in your lives. Children are often scared and feel angry or helpless. You can record your words of encouragement, memories and feelings to share with your children when you physically cannot.
- Socialize with your friends for as long as you can. Do not keep them in the dark. Let them know you are suffering from the disease and what to expect. Keep them in the loop and inform them about support groups.
Coping with Your Career with Early Onset Alzheimer's
- Plan ahead so when work-related tasks become difficult to complete you are ready to inform your employer. Know when it is appropriate or right to stop working.
- When doing your current job is no longer an option, ask to see if there is an alternative position that meets your new skillset. See if you can cut your work hours. Working as long as possible will help slow the progress of the disease.
- Look into early retirement and see if it is an option. Make sure you plan ahead and know what benefits will be accessible from your employer. Keep your partner or spouse informed on your options or decisions.