What Is Early Onset Alzheimer’s?

Written by Active Minds on Wednesday the 30th of May 2018.

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Early onset Alzheimer’s, also known as young onset dementia, affects about 4% of people living with dementia. Early onset Alzheimer’s is defined by the age in which the disease develops – between the ages of 30 to 65 years old, with most people being diagnosed in their 40s and 50s.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia diagnosed in younger people, making up about a third of those with early onset diagnosis.

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Interestingly, people with learning difficulties, such as Down’s Syndrome, have a higher propensity to develop the disease early on. This is thought to be linked to the extra copy of the chromosome 21 that they carry. This chromosome carries the gene for amyloid, which causes a build-up of proteins in the brain (and throughout the body). This extra protein (plaque) is the main cause of Alzheimer’s.

Whilst Alzheimer’s is also diagnosed in older people, the symptoms between the early onset and late onset can differ, with about a third of people diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s displaying ‘atypical’ forms of the condition, as opposed to 5% in later diagnoses.

Symptoms

Whilst one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, for early onset Alzheimer’s patients, they may start to experience issues with their speech and vision first. Similarly, their behaviour and decision-making may also be affected before their memory starts to cause issues.

Genetics

Whilst research is still in its relative infancy, a link has been discovered between genetics and early onset Alzheimer’s, called familial Alzheimer’s disease. This is where rare mutations of genes, most specifically the APP, PS1 and PS2 genes, have been passed from one generation to the next. Generally, the earlier the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease start to appear, the more likely it is that the condition is genetic. However, genetic instances of this type of Alzheimer’s are incredibly rare, and there are currently only 500 known families worldwide that have been affected by this type of hereditary dementia.

Regardless of the age a person is when they are diagnosed with dementia, it is important that activities are undertaken regularly. This can take many forms, including memory exercises for dementia, which help to stimulate and engage the brain.