Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disorder that affects the brain and results in problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It’s an irreversible condition, meaning it’s impossible to slow or reverse its progression. It is the most common form of dementia, affecting 60-80% of all cases.
Alzheimer’s disease can generally be diagnosed after age 65 but it is possible to develop symptoms earlier in life. Early-onset Alzheimer’s usually occurs between age 30 and 65 and might also go undetected as symptoms get mistaken for other conditions such as depression or stress. More recently, research has begun to show high rates of younger onset Alzheimer’s (below age 65) worldwide, with estimated figures ranging from 4% -10% of total cases.
In some cases, early-onset Alzheimer’s runs in the family due to an inherited genetic mutation on Chromosome 21 or on Chromosomes 14 or 1 which may lead to an increased risk of developing this disorder at an earlier age. Other factors are thought to contribute including lifestyle choices such as diet and physical exercise, environment exposures like air pollution or traumatic brain injury from head trauma. A diagnosis should always be made by a qualified medical professional before attempting any kind of self-medication for what can be a very complex neurological condition.
Causes of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia and is a progressive neurological disorder that affects memory and cognitive function. Although there is no single known cause for the condition, there are several factors that have been linked to increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. These include age, family history, lifestyle, and medical conditions.
Let’s take a closer look at what causes Alzheimer’s:
Genetics is thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have identified several genes that increase the risk of developing the condition, though having these gene variants does not guarantee that someone will develop Alzheimer’s.
These identified genes are associated with an increased risk of having early-onset or familial Alzheimer’s. Early-onset occurs between the ages of 30 and 60, while familial form is passed down from parent to child. About 5% to 10% of people with Alzheimer’s have these forms, which are strongly linked to genetic mutations that cause the disease.
Late-onset Alzheimer’s is more common and has a complex genetic basis. It usually affects people over 60 and can have various genetic influences, including variations across multiple gene sites on chromosomes 1, 14, and 19. These gene variations are common in most individuals but increase a person’s risk for developing late-onset Alzheimer’s when combined together with additional known genetic factors.
The most commonly studied gene is apolipoprotein E (ApoE). People who inherit one particular variant known as ApoE4 are at an increased risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s compared to those who do not carry this variant or inherit two copies of it from both parents. While ApoE4 is important as an inherited risk factor for late-onset AD and appears to be associated with higher levels of certain proteins in the brain thought to be involved in AD pathology, it does not cause AD directly; instead, other unknown factors interact with this gene variant before progressing into dementia.
Age is one of the major risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss and other age-related cognitive decline can begin as early as age 55 but is more likely to occur in people over 65 years of age. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s increases with increasing age; after 85 it is estimated that as many as 45% of people have some form of dementia, with many cases being caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
People 85 and older are also more likely to develop many medical problems at the same time, including
- heart problems
It is thought that these comorbidities can contribute to cognitive decline or mask pre-existing dementia, making diagnosis more difficult. If such symptoms are observed in any individual regardless of their age, a doctor should be consulted for an assessment and diagnosis.
Lifestyle choices can impact the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Modifiable risk factors identified include a low level of physical activity, obesity, diabetes, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity and late-life depression. It is important to maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors in mid-life to reduce the risk of developing dementia in later years.
When it comes to physical activity, it is recommended to perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and strength training exercises two times per week. This can help to reduce blood pressure levels as well as lower the risk of metabolic syndrome. In addition, regular exercise promotes overall health which may aid in reducing the risk of AD.
A nutritious diet is also essential for good health and neuroprotective effects against AD. The Mediterranean diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil along with small amounts of fish,, poultry and red meat that have been linked with lower incidence levels for AD among older adults. It is also important to limit sugar intake which can impede cognitive functioning.
Finally, remaining socially engaged throughout life may be protective against AD by providing mental stimulation which can help preserve cognitive reserve or delay the onset or development of symptoms related to dementia(such as memory loss). Further research is needed on how lifestyle modifications influence the progression or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Symptoms of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
Although Alzheimer’s is traditionally thought of as an older person’s disease, it is possible to have early-onset Alzheimer’s and be diagnosed in your 40s or 50s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s generally has the same symptoms as the later-onset form, but the symptoms may occur earlier and progress faster.
Let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s:
Memory loss is one of the first and most common symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s. It usually involves difficulty remembering recent events, conversations, or instructions. Many people who develop Alzheimer’s may forget important events like birthdays and anniversaries, and they may have trouble recalling family members’ names.
Additionally, individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s can experience difficulty learning new information – such as how to use a new electronic device – and they may need help to complete daily tasks that were once familiar to them. Another related memory symptom is misplacing items in familiar places: for example, an individual with early-onset Alzheimer’s might forget where he kept his car keys or where he placed an important document.
As the disease progresses, individuals may experience significant memory loss or even memory confusion. This means that a person might not be able to instantly recall their own identity or the name of someone close to them – even if they are emotionally close or if they’ve known each other for many years. Typically one of the last abilities to go before death are memories from long ago; this is less common for people who have been diagnosed with dementia at an early age than those who have it later on in life.
People with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s may have difficulty concentrating, finding the right words, or staying focused on conversations or tasks. They may also begin to struggle with completing complex tasks that previously came easily – an example could be managing finances or driving directions. Alzheimer’s affects different people in different ways, but difficulty concentrating is a primary symptom even in its earliest stages.
Other difficulty with concentration can include shorter attention spans and trouble with remembering things learned recently or over a period of time. These difficulties can occur even with simple activities like reading passages, understanding instructions, and unpacking information. It is not unusual for people to be able to recognize and remember something they experienced many years ago while struggling to recall something that happened very recently.
Other common signs of trouble concentrating are:
- Needing associated cues to associate with the forgotten information, such as drawings or diagrams for easier understanding;
- Becoming easily overwhelmed;
- Having difficulty doing multiple tasks at once; and
- Difficulty recalling past events in an accurate way.
Language problems are common symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s. People may have difficulty finding the right words to express their thoughts and understand the words of others. This can range from mispronouncing words, having difficulty understanding jokes and riddles, and difficulty with vocabulary. They may have problems expressing themselves effectively in conversations or writing emails or other written documents. They may also have trouble understanding what they have read or seen in movies. Additionally, they may become confused with the order of words in sentences which make their speech sound like gibberish to others.
People with early-onset Alzheimer’s may also experience:
- A lack of interest in conversations that used to be interesting to them.
- Be less able to understand written language such as directions, menus, news articles, etc.
Disorientation is a common early symptom of Alzheimer’s. It can include difficulty in navigating familiar places, such as a neighborhood or the supermarket, getting lost while driving, becoming confused by previously known tasks or routine activities such as balancing a checkbook, misplacing items and forgetting time and familiar season. Such memory loss may lead to problems with communication, attention span and reasoning.
Other symptoms like verbal aggression, delusions or hallucinations can be seen in more advanced stages.
Diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects people younger than 65. Diagnosing such a condition is usually complicated and involves a series of tests. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s in order to receive the correct diagnosis. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you get a head start on treatment and planning for the future.
Some of the signs and symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Difficulty understanding visual images
- Difficulty speaking or writing
- Misplacing items
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Changes in mood or behavior
In order to make an accurate diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, a patient’s medical history is a critical aspect to be studied. During the patient evaluation, information concerning any conditions that the patient is presently suffering from, their overall well-being, and any medications that have been prescribed need to be taken into consideration. It is also important for physicians to take into account the patient’s family history of Alzheimer’s and other neurological ailments and any previous medical imaging results or laboratory tests.
Additionally, physicians may administer cognitive assessments to determine memory functioning, advise lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise changes designed specifically for those with Alzheimer’s, recommend additional blood work or genetic testing to rule out other illnesses that can present with similar symptoms, conduct EEG studies to evaluate brain wave activity associated with memory problems, prescribe cholinesterase inhibitor therapy (a type of medication used for treating dementia) as needed offering management programs based on discussing coping strategies with the patient and their family members.
Cognitive and Neuropsychological Tests
Cognitive and neuropsychological tests are an important diagnostic tool for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. These tests help measure aspects of cognition, such as memory and executive functioning (ability to make decisions). They help detect cognitive changes that can be indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.
The most common test used to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s is the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). The MMSE assesses orientation to person, place, and time, as well as recall, language skills and ability to perform simple tasks. The MMSE evaluates a range of mental abilities including memory and concentration which can be used to identify areas of cognitive decline that need to be further evaluated.
Other neuropsychological tests include assessments of verbal fluency (the ability to think of words quickly) such as the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT) or the Boston Naming Test (BNT). These tests can help identify impairment in language abilities typically seen in individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Tests such as the Trails Making Test can measure executive functioning skills, which are often affected in individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Tests such as the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test can measure memory deficits associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It is important for clinicians to interpret these results within the individual’s overall clinical picture and take into account other factors such as age, race/ethnicity, education level and comorbidities in order to make an accurate diagnosis for early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
Imaging tests are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages. These tests can give doctors information about the physical structure and function of the brain and can help them identify signs of plaque or tangles in the brain, as well as changes in brain tissue caused by dementia. Imaging scans such as a CT scan, MRI scan, and PET scan are typically used to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
- CT Scan: A computerized tomography (CT) scan uses a series of X-ray images taken from different angles and then formed into a 3D image. It gives doctors detailed information about the size, shape, and location of physical abnormalities in the brain that can indicate early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
- MRI Scan: An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field to reveals detailed pictures of your brain’s structures – such as areas with swollen tissue or damage caused by Alzheimer’s plaques – which helps doctors localize the source of any cognitive impairments associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
- PET Scan: A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is used to measure chemical functions in different areas of your brain. It can reveal changes associated with dementia that would not be visible on other scans – such as deposits of amyloid proteins which indicate earlier stages of deposition that characterize early-onset levels of dementia.
In recent years, advances in medical technology have made it possible to identify Alzheimer’s earlier and more accurately. Biomarkers are typically used to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s and include PET scans, lumbar puncture (spinal tap), MRI scans, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analyses and other laboratory tests.
- PET Scans: A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material to create 3D color images of the brain. It measures glucose metabolism in the brain, which can show areas affected by Alzheimer’s at an early stage.
- Lumbar Puncture: Also called a spinal tap, this test uses a needle to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the lower part of the spine to measure levels of amyloid-beta protein in the fluid. High levels are used as an indicator for Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
- MRI Scan: An MRI scan of the brain produces detailed images that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s by showing changes in brain structure caused by deposits of amyloid plaques in the brain tissue.
- Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis: Analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) obtained via lumbar puncture can detect abnormalities in proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Increased levels of specific proteins like tau and beta-amyloid often present in this type of test are clear indicators for early stage onset disease progression.
These biomarker tests provide clinicians with concrete evidence for early diagnosis and better management options for patients suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. They can also provide additional information on related conditions such as dementia or Lewy body disease which may overlap with symptoms found in individuals diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Treatment and Management
Early diagnosis and management is key to managing the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. Timely diagnosis and management can help delay or even prevent the onset of the disease’s more severe symptoms. It is important for patients to understand the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and to remember that early treatment and management are the key to helping preserve their cognition and independence.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition that unfortunately has no cure, but there are medications available to help manage symptoms. These include cholinesterase inhibitors, memantine and other drugs.
Cholinesterase inhibitors increase levels of the chemical “acetylcholine” in the brain and may help alleviate memory problems. Some examples of common cholinesterase inhibitors are donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Razadyne).
Memantine is thought to protect nerve cells from being damaged further by blocking the body’s glutamate receptors. This drug can provide a buffer from environmental changes that can cause exciting excitatory neural activity which could potentially damage brain cells further. Memantine is available in tablet form and as an oral solution.
Other drugs prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Antidepressants to improve mood
- Antipsychotics to treat hallucinations or aggression
- Anti-anxiety medications for reducing agitation.
When considering whether medications will be right for anyone facing Alzheimer’s, it is best to talk to your doctor who can assess symptoms and make suitable recommendations based on diagnosis and determining factors.
There are a variety of non-pharmacological therapies that may help with the management and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. These therapies involve interventions targeted at helping caregivers and families, as well as providing mental stimulation, emotional support, lifestyle changes, and other strategies to preserve or improve cognitive function. Examples include:
- Cognitive enrichment therapies: Cognitive enrichment therapies involve activities designed to challenge the patient’s memory, language and problem solving skills in an effort to improve their cognitive function. This can include computer programs, cards games such as bridge or chess, music instruction, art therapy or classes focused on life skills.
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a form of therapy focused on reducing undesired behaviors that can impact daily functioning. It also helps promote positive behaviors in areas such as communication, social interactions, leisure activities, self-help skills and daily living activities. ABA has been shown to be particularly beneficial for those with dementia related behavioral issues such as aggression or excessive agitation.
- Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST): Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is a group activity aimed at stimulating the brain in an effort to slow down its deterioration or delay functional deterioration due to Alzheimer’s disease. This therapy uses weekly sessions with multiple patients that focus on specific topics designed to promote communication while improving cognitive functioning. CST also helps promote better problem solving abilities and increases alertness while providing emotional support for patients and caregivers alike.
- Engagement activities: Engagement activities are designed to maintain current abilities while promoting relationships among family members, friends and care staff alike. They often involve familiar topics such as hobbies or past interests that can provide joy for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease by bringing back old memories and giving them something to look forward to each week. Engagement activities include recreational opportunities such as cooking meals together outside of the home environment or simply taking walks outdoors together which are often meaningful experiences enjoyed by both generations interacting during this time of life transition. Other possible engagement options might be taking classes such as computer literacy courses at a local college or even attending religious service if this is part of the person’s personal beliefs.
Supportive care for Alzheimer’s disease involves paying attention to the needs of both the person with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Supportive care helps maintain safety, reduce stress and slow decline.
Supportive care activities can include:
- Exercise such as walking or biking.
- Having hobbies or activities that are enjoyable and help improve sense of self-esteem.
- Recreational activities that are fun and engaging such as word puzzles, board games or playing cards.
- Socializing with other seniors or joining clubs to engage socially with others in meaningful activities.
- Providing physical comfort by ensuring a safe environment, using appropriate clothing and helping to prevent pressure sores.
- Providing emotional comfort through nurturing relationships, employment of patience and understanding of behavior changes associated with age.
- Utilizing technology to access memories (iTunes playlist for instance), keep track of appointments or participate in online support groups.
- Use visual cues such as photos, labels on dressers/rooms etc., calendars for current events (whenever possible).
- Consulting a healthcare professional that specializes in compassionate supportive care for mental health issues associated with dementia like depression and anxiety.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is characterized by memory loss, confusion and impaired judgement, and unfortunately, there is no known cure. However, there are some strategies that you can use to prevent or slow down the progression of the disease.
Let’s discuss some of the different strategies for prevention of Alzheimer’s:
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is an important way to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. While research suggests that certain diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, may be beneficial for lower dementia risk, there is no single “magic” food or diet plan to prevent it.
Instead, focus on eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods that support brain health. These include whole grains, lean proteins (e.g. poultry and fish), fruits, vegetables and healthy fats (e.g. nuts and avocados). You should also limit your consumption of processed and packaged items: they can contain added sugar, unhealthy fats and other additives which are best avoided if possible.
Also make sure to stay hydrated: dehydration can worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease; a good rule of thumb is to drink 8 glasses of water per day in addition to other beverage choices like tea or freshly-squeezed juice. Taking supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids also has been proven supportive in reducing Alzheimer risk as they reduce inflammation which harms cognition ability significantly over time when left unmonitored.
Additionally, look out for symptoms that could point towards early Alzheimer’s such as increased forgetfulness; going to a doctor periodically will help you keep track of any underlying issues with cognitive function and ultimately save you from the worst possible scenarios for the future!
Exercise is integral to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s. A sedentary lifestyle significantly increases a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s, while those who participate in physical activity and exercise regularly are less likely to develop it. Exercise has beneficial effects on neurons, improving communication between brain cells and helping against damage to them.
Adding simple aerobic exercises like walking or jogging can be beneficial in short-term memory benefits as well as overall cognitive tasks that involve spatial working memory. Moderate intensity exercises, like cycling for 20 minutes straight, have been linked with reduced decline in areas of the brain associated with memory problems and a decreased risk of dementia. Resistance training activities such as lifting weights or using body weight can contribute to improved cognitive function as well. Regularly participating in group classes also helps with cognitive function and socialization, reducing feelings of loneliness or isolation that can lead to more rapid decline later on.
Alzheimer’s disease is not 100% preventable but research shows that making even small changes to your lifestyle can make monumental differences in the long run when it comes to reducing your risk for this degenerative disease.
Mental stimulation can help reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Mental stimulation activities may include puzzles and games, reading, taking classes and learning new skills. Engaging in social activities can also provide mental stimulation as well as emotional benefits. Such activities may include attending clubs, going out to eat with friends or family, or volunteering to support a cause you are passionate about.
Keeping an active mind is critical for cognition and overall brain health— so get out there and enjoy stimulating your brain!
Staying socially connected with friends and family can be both physically and mentally stimulating. When you interact with people, even if it’s just conversations, you’re engaging multiple parts of your brain and creating new neural connections. Establishing strong ties with a variety of people keeps all our neural networks active as we age—a key to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Not sure how to get social? Here are some ideas:
- Get involved with community groups or religious organizations
- Join a club or gym for social activities; for example, book clubs, knitting circles, card games etc.
- Make use of online opportunities like Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime to keep in contact with friends
- Attend special events such as concerts, plays and more in your area
- Plan outings like dinner at restaurants; movie nights; visits to museums; art galleries and more
In conclusion, it is difficult to pinpoint a definitive answer on the age range in which someone can experience Alzheimer’s disease—though it is typically observed in those aged 65 and older. Researchers agree that age is the greatest overall risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s—with individuals who have family members with the condition being at higher risk compared to those without a family history of it. There are also emerging studies which point to cases involving onset before or around the mid-50s which may represent an early-onset form of the disease.
It’s important to note, however, that irrespective of when someone develops Alzheimer’s, effective treatment requires early diagnosis and intervention by a qualified health care professional. Talk with your doctor if you notice any changes in your memory or cognitive processing skills.