While not particularly common, Alzheimer’s Disease can take hold in people much younger than its typical victims, who are generally over age 65. For reasons that medical science is still attempting to determine—though genetics seems to play a major role—some individuals as young as 40 can begin to exhibit Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms.
Called Early or Younger Onset Alzheimer’s, the disease experience is particularly tragic for both the diagnosed person and his/her family and friends because it strikes during prime adulthood, when many people are busy parents, spouses, and employees—and they may even be providing care for older relatives with Alzheimer’s or dementia themselves.
Luckily, there are many resources available to help both patients and loved ones—in the form of support groups, educational opportunities, medical therapies to help alleviate symptoms, and in-home care/assistance with daily living tasks from qualified caregivers at MediQuest Staffing.
Today’s post offers insight to some of the signs to look for if you or a loved one has been exhibiting troubling memory loss or personality changes regardless of their age.
What is Early Onset Alzheimer’s?
The term “early onset” is added to Alzheimer’s—an unfortunately common degenerative brain condition—to describe situations when the disease appears in people younger than age 65. According to the national non-profit Alzheimer’s Association, about 200,000 Americans out of the approximately 5 million diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have experienced an early onset.
While Alzheimer’s will progress through a known set of stages, those with younger-onset may experience a more rapid decline in memory and other brain function, or they may progress to a certain stage and remain stable there for years. It’s important to note that Alzheimer’s can look very different from person to person.
Additionally, not all early-onset dementia is Alzheimer’s—only brain imaging can show whether memory loss and other cognitive issues are being caused by so-called “plaques and tangles” appearing in the predictable patterns of Alzheimer’s. Do not allow anyone to suggest Alzheimer’s before your loved one has been thoroughly evaluated—including having brain image scans—by a qualified memory healthcare provider.
What causes the early onset of Alzheimer’s?
While researchers have not landed on a definitive cause—or cure—for Alzheimer’s, many believe that genetics plays a central role in determining whether a given individual will or won’t develop the condition.
If others in your family have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, particularly with younger onset, it’s important to prioritize both your brain and overall health. Visit your doctor and discuss your concerns as soon as possible.
An additional risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s could be a history of head injury and trauma. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that all children and adults should protect their brain by always wearing a seatbelt in the car and a helmet when playing sports. Fall-proofing your home is also a smart idea, even if you aren’t in a high-risk category for trip and fall accidents, such as older adults and those with mobility problems are.
What are the symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s?
The symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s can be subtle. And they can look a lot like stress in busy, active adults. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider to determine whether it is Alzheimer’s, dementia, or something else entirely.
These are the biggest signs to watch out for, but there are others that the Alzheimer’s Association presents, as well:
Forgetting newly learned information
It’s true that we all rely on memory aids like sticky notes, to-do lists, and our smartphones to help us keep track of information. But if you’re having particular trouble remembering things you just learned—and you don’t suddenly recall these things at a later time—it may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Losing track of time and place
Even if you feel like you’re always asking “what time is it?” and your days rush by in a blur, you probably are not experiencing an early symptom of Alzheimer’s.
A more troubling thing is if you’re losing large swaths of time—you’re not sure of the season or what year it is even if you stop to think about it more intently. Additionally, you may have traveled somewhere and have no memory of how you got there.
As we age, it’s not uncommon to develop eye issues like cataracts that can interfere with our healthy sight. However, these structural problems are not typical for younger adults.
If you are under age 65 and are having difficulty reading words in books or on screens that your glasses can no longer correct, or if your depth perception and experience of color is changing, it can be an Alzheimer’s symptom.
Trouble Finding the Right Word
It’s true that everyone has occasional memory lapses and can’t always find the right way to express a thought when speaking or writing. Those with Alzheimer’s will have more severe language issues such as problems joining and following conversations. They might repeat themselves or call things by the wrong names frequently.
Note that this—as with all symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia—should only raise red flags when it represents a change from an individual’s typical behavior. If a given individual has always had language difficulties due to other conditions, for example, this would not be a symptom of Alzheimer’s because it is not a change for them.
Mood Changes & Withdrawal from Activities
While distancing oneself from social, work, and family obligations can be a sign of depression unrelated to dementia or Alzheimer’s, mood and personality changes typically accompany these conditions.
Pay close attention to whether your loved one seems to be easily upset, especially when they’re out of their most familiar environments or navigating unexpected circumstances. While we are all somewhat reliant on routines and tend to feel most comfortable at home, those in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s are more likely to become agitated when their “regularly scheduled programming” is disrupted.
Need Memory Care Help at Home in Central PA? MediQuest is Here for You
As medical science advances, discoveries are being made that help Alzheimer’s patients live longer. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are many treatments that can help slow—or even stop—the progression of this disease.
To make things more comfortable for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, care at home—with the reliable assistance of skilled professional caregivers—is often the best course of action. Creating predictability and a healthy routine for patients helps them remain calm, which prevents harmful stress for both them and their loved ones.
Here in the Lancaster, PA area, MediQuest Staffing provides high-quality, comprehensive dementia care at home for a diverse client base with a wide variety of needs. Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you with in-home memory care.