Sunday, July 3, 2016
Top 4 Questions about Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease
On June 28, Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach, passed away at age 59 after living for five years with early-onset dementia. In a statement, Pat’s son Tyler said, “Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early-onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she’s faced.”
Upon learning the sad news of Pat’s death, many people now have questions about the meaning of the term “early-onset Alzheimer’s,” its symptoms, implications, and what we can do now to prevent or help reduce the risk of becoming affected by the disease in later life.
What is early onset dementia?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, when the Alzheimer’s disease occurs in someone under the age of 65, it is considered early onset (or younger onset). Of the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, an estimated 200,000, or 5 percent, are under the age of 65. Many receive a diagnosis in their 40s or 50s.
Scientists at the University of Washington’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Research Center say that some cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s have no known cause, but most of these cases (61 percent) can be linked to particular genes and are familial. Of these familial cases, the onset consistently is before the age of 60, often before the age of 55.
Receiving an accurate diagnosis can be difficult for younger people, since many health care providers may not look for it in younger patients. The disease affects each person in different ways, and people may be in any of the seven stages of Alzheimer’s when they are professionally diagnosed.
What are the signs and symptoms of early-onset dementia?
Generally, the symptoms for people with early-onset Alzheimer’s are similar to other forms of the disease that affect older people.
Some early symptoms may include:
As the disease progresses, later symptoms may include:
While there is no one test for Alzheimer’s disease, people experiencing memory issues are advised to contact their medical provider for a cognitive test, a neurological exam or brain imaging.
Someone I love has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. What do we do now?
According to Rita Altman, SVP of Memory Care and Program Services at Sunrise Senior Living, “If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, now is the time to reach out for support, focus on the present and live life to the fullest.”
In an article written for the Huffington Post, Responding to a Diagnoses of Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Rita says that those with early-onset Alzheimer’s should be given the opportunity to express the full range of emotions that accompany the disease, as they are likely to go through a grieving process. She recommends support groups and focusing on remaining abilities while adjusting to life with Alzheimer’s.
Many, including Seth Rogan, whose mother-in-law was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s when she was in her mid-50s, and the late Pat Summitt, became involved in raising awareness and taking on an active role in fighting the disease.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are medications that may help with some of the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s. The results have been mixed, but the drugs seem to help people with their symptoms for anywhere from a few months to a few years.
But Rita recommends that, as the needs of a patient change, it may be a good idea to research additional support and assisted living options. The most effective programs for individuals with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease are those that take into consideration and tailor the program to the individual needs and preferences of each person.
Is there a way to prevent early-onset Alzheimer’s?
According to the National Institute on Aging, experts don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating a nutritious diet, avoiding smoking, and staying mentally and physically active, may help lower other risk factors associated with the disease.
Rita has written about the 3 Ways to Change Your Lifestyle and Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s, where she explains that “most experts agree that if there is one day a cure for the disease, it will likely need to be a combination of medications.” In addition, she says, some dementia experts suggest that lifestyle improvements may have an even greater effect than drugs.
If you or your loved one is concerned about the possibility of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, it’s never too early to start educating yourself on the effects of the disease and how to live with the diagnosis. As the inimitable Pat Summitt said, “You can’t always control what happens, but you can control how you handle it.”
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by SUNRISESENIORLIVING
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length