The Truth About Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

Many understandably associate dementia with aging, but it can impact younger people, too.

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- Posted on Apr 27, 2021

A woman meets with her doctor

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, 72 percent of the more than 6 million Americans who are living with the disease are age 75 and older. Age, however, is not the only risk factor. Although far less common, younger-onset Alzheimer’s is the term used to describe the disease for individuals diagnosed before age 65.

The warning signs and symptoms associated with younger-onset Alzheimer’s are similar to Alzheimer’s, but the experience itself can be quite different. People diagnosed with younger-onset may have dependent children, be at the peak of their professional careers or even be caregivers themselves.

Diagnosing younger-onset Alzheimer’s can be tricky. It is common for individuals suffering from early cognitive decline to attribute symptoms to stress. Doctors often discount symptoms due to the person’s younger age—resulting in a long and frustrating road to diagnosis.

Maria Turner, 53, a current member of the Alzheimer’s Association National Early-Stage Advisory Group, was diagnosed with mixed dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 2016, at age 48. Turner worked as a registered nurse and nursing educator in intensive and cardiac care before her diagnosis forced her into early retirement.

“I sensed something serious was going on when I drove to the wrong hospital for a work assignment,” Turner recalls. “A good friend, and fellow nurse, convinced me to undergo a comprehensive cognitive assessment. Although I knew something was wrong, Alzheimer’s was the last thing on my mind.”

It’s important to note that cognitive changes do not necessarily signal Alzheimer’s or another serious condition. Treatable conditions such as depression, sleep apnea, thyroid problems or low levels of certain vitamins can cause cognitive decline. Seeking an early diagnosis for cognitive issues can help determine the exact cause.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a list of 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s (alz.org/10signs) to help you understand what to watch out for. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with a doctor.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, including warning signs, and to find resources, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at alz.org or call its 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

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