Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, typically affects adults over age 65. But about 5-6% of people with Alzheimer's get it before age 65, known as early-onset Alzheimer's. It's rare, but even people in their 30s and 40s can get the disease.
This debilitating disease affects memory, thinking, and behavior. As it progresses, it can drastically affect a person’s ability to perform daily activities.
Experts still haven’t figured out exactly why some people get the disease and what causes Alzheimer's. But they know that people with Alzheimer’s disease develop more types of protein called plaques and tangles that damage and kill nerve cells in the brain.
Symptoms of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
The symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are the same as when it occurs in older people. These include:
- Forgetting things, especially newly learned information
- Misplacing things and not knowing how to find them
- Having difficulty with basic tasks, such as following a recipe or remembering to pay bills
- Not knowing where you are, how you got there, or what day/time it is
- Having trouble finding the right words to communicate with others
- Finding it hard to make decisions or having poor judgment
- Exhibiting changes in personality and mood
Often a person who has these symptoms is not aware of them. They may be aware of some changes that occur at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s. More likely, a loved one recognizes these changes in memory, thinking, and behavior.
No matter who notices the symptoms, it's best to bring it to the attention of a healthcare provider who can help diagnose the condition.
When You Notice Symptoms
What to Expect with Alzheimer's
There is no cure, but medicines and lifestyle changes can help manage the condition.
Many people forget things, especially as they age or when they are busy. Occasionally misplacing your car keys or forgetting you had an appointment should not be a cause for panic. This doesn't mean you have Alzheimer’s disease. The condition affects memory, thinking, and behavior in ways that go beyond just the average forgetfulness many of us experience on occasion.
But if you're concerned, no matter what your age, it is a good idea to discuss this with your doctor. They can perform some cognitive tests in the office that evaluate your memory, problem-solving, and other mental skills. Depending on the results of these tests, you may need additional testing.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but treatments may help slow the progression of the disease and preserve mental function. Diagnosing the condition early also helps people prepare for what may lie ahead when cognitive function declines further.
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