Early Onset Dementia: What you need to know

Early Onset Dementia

Early Onset Dementia

Early-onset dementia is a scary thing for many people, and it can often be difficult to know what to do once you realize that you or someone close to you has been diagnosed. There are several different ways that one can cope with the diagnosis, but in this blog post, we will focus on three techniques: talking about it openly, pursuing healthy living habits, and connecting with other people who have been through the same experience.

The most frequent forms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are identical, but there are a few minor differences:

Common Alzheimer disease:

Symptoms typically begin in a person’s late 60s or early 70s, and it is more common for men than women.

Common Alzheimer disease

Early-onset Alzheimer disease:

This form of the illness can sometimes be inherited from parents who carry one of three genes associated with early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD) — often referred to as the “early-onset” form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Genetic (familial) Alzheimer disease:

Symptoms typically begin in a person’s 40s, 50s or 60s and are more common for women than men.

Genetic (familial) Alzheimer disease

What causes early-onset Alzheimer disease?

Experts are uncertain what initiates the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. They think that two proteins harm and destroy nerve cells, though they aren’t sure which ones or how.

Most people diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease have a mutated gene that causes the buildup of amyloid protein in the brain, leading to plaque deposits and nerve cell damage. This has been observed most often in families where several members had symptoms at an unusually young age (typically under 65). In these cases, doctors believe these individuals inherited a genetic predisposition to the disease.

Many cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease result from changes in specific genes and are not hereditary, though these types of mutations do run in families. Most often this type of mutation occurs spontaneously or is caused by environmental factors such as toxins that affect gene function (mutagens). Scientists are studying the role of age, environment and lifestyle in Alzheimer’s disease to determine how these factors might make someone more or less susceptible.

Over time, nerve cells (neurons) stop working normally; they lose their ability to communicate with other neurons. This disrupts messages traveling along brain circuits responsible for thought, memory, language skills and behavior, causing a characteristic set of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Neural connections are lost, and the brain cells eventually die, which can cause memory problems as well as difficulties with thinking and reasoning—symptoms that become more severe over time.

What are the risks for early-onset Alzheimer disease?

Only one risk element has been identified to date: family history of the condition: If other members of your family have had Alzheimer’s disease, you are more likely to get it too.

 

What are the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer disease?

The symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer disease are often similar to those seen in other types of Alzheimer disease.

Early symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty recognizing people you’ve known in the past
  • Problems with language, speaking and understanding.
  • Problems with planning and solving problems
  • Misplacing things, losing or forgetting how to use objects (e.g., turning off the oven)

At first you might be able to compensate for these changes by using lists or notes. But eventually, even familiar tasks may become difficult. You might forget recently learned material when trying to follow a familiar recipe or make a phone call to an old friend.

  • Forgetting important information such as taking medication, where you just put the car keys and other things that would be easy for most people.
  • You may experience mental confusion or disorientation about time and place (not knowing what day it is, not recognizing your surroundings).

Later symptoms:

list the later symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer disease

  • You may experience mental confusion or disorientation about time and place (not knowing what day it is, not recognizing your surroundings)
  • You may find yourself getting lost in familiar places.
  • Memory problems will get worse, and you might have trouble learning new information or following conversations.
  • You may have trouble completing tasks at work or at home. For example, you might struggle with everyday household chores like cooking and cleaning.

How is early-onset Alzheimer disease diagnosed?

The current method of diagnosing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is based on detecting indications of cognitive impairment and mental decline.

How is early-onset Alzheimer disease diagnosed

These signs and symptoms must be noticeable to the person’s family members, friends or co-workers as well as a medical professional for an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease to take place. In addition, brain imaging techniques such as MRI scans are used to confirm the presence of amyloid plaques in those suspected with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

How is early-onset Alzheimer disease treated?

Early onset Alzheimer’s disease treatment may include acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, which are an anti-dementia medication prescribed to patients in the later stages of dementia. The drug Aricept® was approved by the U.S for this use in 2007 and is currently one of the most common treatments offered for persons with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. While there is no cure yet for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, medications can help in delaying its effects on daytime living skills or helping manage mood swings that result from dementia. Early diagnosis may provide opportunities for better caregiving among family members or friends, updated end-of-life plans, financial planning and other preparations.

Medicines are utilized to assist individuals in maintaining their mental function. They include:

Donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine.

Other therapies that may help with the progression of early-onset Alzheimer disease include physical activity, cognitive training, and social engagement.

Physical activity includes physical therapy or exercise that is designed to improve your daily function. This may include activities like walking, treadmill exercises, swimming, bike riding, etc… Cognitive training also helps with maintaining memory by helping individuals recognize early signs of the disease as well as strategies for coping day-to-day living skills. Social engagement is also helpful with the advancement of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It helps individuals stay connected and engaged in their environment through social activities that may include attending religious services, talking over a cup of coffee or tea together, playing games, etc…

Can early-onset Alzheimer disease be prevented?

Early-onset Alzheimer disease cannot be prevented, but it can be delayed in its effects on daytime living skills or mood changes. This can be done through medications, medical management and lifestyle choices such as dietary modifications and physical exercise.

Living with early-onset Alzheimer disease

It might be difficult to cope with Alzheimer’s disease at an early age. If you’re caring for a person with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, it may be challenging to balance your career and family life. You might also find that dealing with the fears or guilt associated with watching someone decline into dementia is very difficult.

It can help to connect with other caregivers in similar situations. Caregiving will require patience, flexibility and determination to meet the needs of your loved one.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. The early stages of this condition are often hard to detect because it can be subtle at first or mistaken for depression, stress or another type of mental illness. Early diagnosis may provide opportunities for better caregiving among family members or friends, updated end-of-life plans, financial planning and other preparations.  You’re not alone if you find yourself caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease – connect with others who are in the same situation as you!

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