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July 24, 2022

Am I too young to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or dementia?

If you are in your 80s or 70s and have observed memory loss, it would be normal for you to be afraid that you are acquiring Alzheimer's disease or another kind of dementia. But what if you're sixty, fifty, or forty? These ages are too young for Alzheimer's or dementia, correct?

Approximately 10% of Alzheimer's disease cases present before age 65.

Perhaps not necessarily. Alzheimer's disease affects around 60 to 70 per cent of the more than 55 million persons living with dementia globally. Ten per cent of the 33 to 38.5 million persons with Alzheimer's disease experienced memory loss or other symptoms before the age of 65. Alzheimer's disease is the most prevalent cause of young-onset dementia. A recent study from the Netherlands revealed that of those with a known classification of their young-onset dementia, 55% had Alzheimer's disease, 11% had vascular dementia, 3% had frontotemporal dementia, 3% had dementia from Parkinson's disease, 2% had dementia with Lewy bodies, and 2% had primary progressive aphasia.


Young-onset dementia is rare.
Young-onset dementia, which by definition begins before age 65 and is frequently referred to as early-onset dementia, is uncommon. According to a study conducted in Norway, young-onset dementia affects 163 out of every 100,000 people or less than 0.5 per cent of the population. Therefore, if you are younger than 65 and have experienced memory problems, there is a 99.5% chance that there is a cause other than dementia. (Whew!)

There are some exceptions to this generalization. More than half of persons with Down syndrome get Alzheimer's disease, often in their forties, since they have an extra copy of the chromosome that carries the gene for the amyloid protein present in Alzheimer's plaques. Other genetic disorders that run in families can cause Alzheimer's disease to begin in people's 50s, 40s, or even 30s; however, you would know if you are at risk since one of your parents would have had early-onset Alzheimer's disease.


How does early-onset Alzheimer's vary from late-onset Alzheimer's?

In the same way that no two persons are identical, no two individuals with Alzheimer's disease exhibit identical symptoms, even if the condition began at the same age in both cases. However, there are variations between Alzheimer's disease with early onset and late-onset.

People with typical, late-onset Alzheimer's disease who are 65 or older have a combination of Alzheimer's disease-related and normal ageing-related deficits in cognition and memory. The frontal lobes are the regions of the brain that change the most with normal ageing. The frontal lobes are crucial for a variety of cognitive activities, including working memory — the capacity to hold and manipulate information in one's head — and problem-solving insight.

This indicates that, in terms of cognitive function, people with young-onset Alzheimer's disease may exhibit relatively isolated difficulties with their episodic memory – the ability to build new memories to recall recent events in their lives. Late-onset Alzheimer's disease is characterized by difficulties with episodic memory, working memory, and insight. You would therefore assume that life is more difficult for persons with late-onset Alzheimer's disease, correct?

Depression and anxiety are more prevalent in Alzheimer's disease with an early onset.
At least at the commencement of the disease, people with late-onset Alzheimer's disease have higher cognitive and daily function impairment than those with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. However, due to their reduced insight, persons with late-onset disease are not as aware of these issues. The majority of my patients with late-onset Alzheimer's disease will either tell me that their memory impairments are moderate or that they have none at all!


In contrast, because they have greater insight, individuals with young-onset Alzheimer's disease are frequently despondent and apprehensive about the future, as a group of Canadian researchers recently found. And as if having Alzheimer's disease at a young age wasn't enough to trigger depression and anxiety, emerging data reveals that the pathology advances more rapidly in those with young-onset Alzheimer's disease.

By impacting individuals in their prime of life, young-onset Alzheimer's disease tends to disturb families more than late-onset Alzheimer's disease. Children in adolescence and young adulthood can no longer go to their parents for advice. Individuals who may be caring for children at home must now also care for their spouse, possibly in addition to caring for an elderly parent and maintaining a full-time job.


What should you do if you are under 65 and have memory issues?

If you are younger than 65 and experiencing memory problems, it is highly improbable that you have Alzheimer's disease. However, if this is the case, the National Institute on Aging offers helpful information.

What other factors could cause memory issues in young people? Insufficient sleep is the most common cause of memory issues in people under 65. Other reasons for memory issues in the young include perimenopause, prescription side effects, depression, anxiety, illegal drugs, alcohol, cannabis, head injuries, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, chemotherapy, strokes, and other neurological conditions.

Everyone, regardless of age, can take the following steps to improve their memory and lower their risk of developing dementia:

Eat Mediterranean-style cuisine.
Avoid alcohol, marijuana, and other substances.
Sleep soundly.
Engage in sociable activities.
Pursue novel, mentally challenging hobbies, listen to music, practise mindfulness, and maintain a happy mindset.

Am I too young to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or dementia?

Photo by Ben Mack from Pexels
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