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5 signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease

5 signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease

Symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease

You’ve probably heard the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” used interchangeably. But, before you’re able to recognise the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s, you need to be able to tell the difference between dementia vs. Alzheimer’s. Here’s a quick recap: Dementia is an overarching term for mental decline (including loss of memory, language skills and thinking abilities) that could be caused by many diseases and conditions, whereas Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Often, Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be a condition that affects the elderly, but it can also impact people under age 65, which is known as early-onset. According to Dementia Australia, about 28,300 people have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Australia and it tends to occur to people in their 40s and 50s. Keep in mind that this condition is relatively rare and makes up only 10% of all people with Alzheimer’s disease. That said, how can you tell if someone has simple forgetfulness or early-onset Alzheimer’s disease?

We spoke with medical experts who reveal the tell-tale signs and when they’re a cause for concern.

You’re extremely forgetful

Memory loss is the most common symptom of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (and late-onset as well). It’s typically one of the first signs that something is wrong. Symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s – which are similar to those that appear in other cases of the condition – usually start when people are in their 40s or 50s, but memory loss is also a normal part of ageing.

“We don’t want to worry people that when they can’t remember a name or a word, that they’re on their way to Alzheimer’s,” says Dr Rudolph Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “As we get older, our brain isn’t as good. Wear and tear, and inflammation, affect the brain much like it affects our joints.”

Memory issues that reflect normal ageing include things like not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago, or not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance. But signs of a cognitive problem might be not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations, or not recognising or knowing the names of family members.

You’re misplacing things – all the time

Everyone misplaces things from time to time – phone, glasses, keys. The difference in people who might have early-onset Alzheimer’s or another cognitive problem is that these losses happen more frequently, and they’re unable to retrace their steps or think of where to look for the lost item. For example, if your car keys are in your other handbag, it’s probably no big deal. But if they turn up in the refrigerator, it could be cause for concern.

Repeating yourself

People with early-onset Alzheimer’s (or late-onset) may repeat statements and questions over and over, not realising that they’ve asked the same question before, according to the Alzheimer’s Association in the US. “The time to get worried,” says Dr Elise Caccappolo, director of the neuropsychology service and associate professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center, “is when people repeat themselves within a very short time span.” An example would be if someone asks when a friend is coming to visit, gets told the answer, and then asks the same question a few minutes later without remembering that he or she had already inquired.

Your sleep habits change

Many people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty sleeping, waking up more often, and staying awake longer during the night. Changes in sleep that might indicate early-onset Alzheimer’s include daytime napping and/or feeling drowsy during the day but being unable to sleep at night.

Written by Beth Weinhouse. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.

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