When someone develops Alzheimer’s before age 65, doctors refer to it as early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This type of dementia is rare, occurring in only about five percent of AD cases primarily affecting people in their 40s and 50s.
Also known as FAD, or familial Alzheimer’s disease, EOAD is thought to be inherited via autosomal dominant genetic patterns and usually strikes someone who has a least one close relative (especially a parent or grandparent) with Alzheimer’s. When EOAD affects someone without a history of familial AD, the dementia is then referred to as “sporadic Alzheimer’s disease”.
Specifically, EOAD results from a mutation in at least one of three genes–presenilin 1, presenilin 2 and the gene that researchers think causes the destructive plaques and tangles indicative of Alzheimer’s disease called amyloid precursor protein.
Clinical Features of Early Onset Alzheimer’s
People suffering from EOAD seem to experience cognitive impairment emphasizing visuospatial problems rather than loss of memory. For example, if you were having regular issues with judging distances, accurately assessing your driving speed, walking into doorframes instead of through doorways or become disoriented in familiar places at age 55, you may be suffering from EOAD, especially if a parent or grandparent has had the disease.
Doctors think the reason why EOAD and typical Alzheimer’s symptoms differ is because it involves contrasting cortical atrophy patterns that are seen in MRI scans of people with EOAD. According to the article “The topography of gray matter involvement in early and late onset Alzheimer’s disease” written by Giovanni Frison et al and published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology (2007), early onset Alzheimer’s disease and late onset Alzheimer’s may in fact be separate diseases.
Based on studies indicating that functioning of the neocortex is much more affected in EOAD than in LOAD, this article’s hypothesis suggests that LOAD and EOAD may even have different etiological factors that contribute to their emergence at a particular time in someone’s life. In addition, gray matter atrophy is more severe in people with EOAD, an observation that may propose the idea that it may be a more aggressive type of dementia.
Brain imaging scans support the idea that brains affected by EOAD suffer from an initially heavier amount of plaques and tangles in the neocortex than brains affected by LOAD. People over 65 who are diagnosed with AD have more plaques and tangles damaging the hippocampal region, which is responsible for memory and learning.
Other Alzheimer’s test and research studies have discovered that in addition to EOAD exhibiting a stronger genetic predisposition, late onset Alzheimer’s may be acutely more sensitive to environmental factors, such as the person’s health, the person’s stress level, educational background and other lifestyle choices negatively impacting brain functioning.
Early Onset Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Along with visuospatial difficulties, someone with EOAD may have problems with short-term memory loss, frequently misplacing items that are commonly used such as keys or cell phones and an inability to learn new tasks. You may provide a set of facts to an EOAD patient who cannot form a simple conclusion by analyzing and processing the facts. Sentences may become choppy and sometimes incomprehensible because the person suffering from EOAD cannot remember the words necessary to complete a thought.
If you have early onset Alzheimer’s, you may place your watch or toothbrush in the refrigerator and forget doing it, only to stumble upon the items later without any recollection of performing the activity. Relatives and friends may notice a distinct personality or behavioral change in a loved one with EOAD. Someone who was once quiet and unassuming may suddenly start talking loudly and aggressively in a restaurant over a mistake in the order. Mood swings can be rapid and unexpected, with the person feeling apathetic one minute and anxious in another.
It is important to receive a diagnosis of EOAD as soon as possible so that treatment intervention can start inhibiting the progression of the disease. Doctors will perform a series of blood tests in addition to neurological, motor and psychological assessments to determine whether EOAD exists. Any family history of Alzheimer’s should always be disclosed during a professional assessment to enhance accuracy of the diagnosis.
Although you cannot do anything about your genetic make-up, you can eat healthy, exercise regularly, keep stress to a minimum in your life and stimulate your mind by socializing, playing games, taking classes and doing puzzles in your spare time. Maintaining an active, motivated, and engaged lifestyle appears to reduce the risk of developing both EOAD and LOAD.
Moreover, three important facets of overall good blood vessel health–cholesterol level, blood pressure and blood glucose level–are factors that are highly influential in triggering Alzheimer’s disease. Making sure that your brain consistently receives sufficient blood flow by keeping blood vessels unclogged and strong can substantially delay early onset Alzheimer’s as well as other forms of dementia.