Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD) is a relatively rare form of Alzheimer’s disease affecting people under 65. It accounts for approximately 5-10% of all Alzheimer’s cases. The majority of Alzheimer’s patients (around 90-95%) occur in people over the age of 65, and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age. However, EOAD can be particularly devastating because it can affect people during their prime working years and significantly impact their families and caregivers. It is important to note that the prevalence of EOAD varies depending on the population studied. Still, it is estimated that EOAD affects about 200,000 people in the United States.
The causes of EOAD are not fully understood. Still, research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of the disease.
Genetic factors: In some cases, EOAD is caused by a genetic mutation passed down from parent to child. Three genes have been identified as responsible for EOAD: APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2. These genes are involved in the production of amyloid protein, which can build up in the brain and form plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Environmental factors: Certain environmental factors may also contribute to the development of EOAD. For example, head injuries, exposure to toxins or pollutants, and poor nutrition may increase the risk of developing EOAD.
Lifestyle factors: Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, poor sleep, and high-stress levels may also contribute to the development of EOAD.
It is important to note that genetic factors cause not all cases of EOAD, and not all people with a genetic mutation will develop EOAD. Most EOAD cases occur sporadically, meaning there is no known genetic cause.
Diagnosing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD) can be challenging because its symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or normal ageing. However, an accurate and timely diagnosis is crucial because it can help individuals and their families plan for the future and access appropriate medical and supportive services.
Here are the steps typically involved in diagnosing EOAD:
Medical history: The healthcare provider will ask questions about the person’s medical record, including any symptoms they have experienced and any risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, such as family history or head injury.
Physical examination: The healthcare provider will perform a physical exam to check for any underlying health conditions contributing to the person’s symptoms.
Cognitive tests: The healthcare provider will administer cognitive tests to evaluate the person’s memory, language, reasoning, and other mental functions. These tests may include the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) or similar tests.
Imaging tests: The healthcare provider may order imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) to check for any physical changes in the brain, such as the buildup of amyloid plaques.
Blood tests: The healthcare provider may order blood tests to rule out other potential causes of cognitive impairment, such as vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems.
Suppose the above steps suggest that the person has EOAD. In that case, the healthcare provider may refer them to a specialist, such as a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist, for further evaluation and management.
There is no cure for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD). Still, some treatments can help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with the disease and their families. The goal of treatment for EOAD is to slow the progression of the disease, manage symptoms, and maintain the individual’s independence for as long as possible.
Here are some treatments that may be used to manage EOAD:
Medications: Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine may be prescribed to help manage the cognitive and behavioural symptoms of EOAD.
Supportive therapies: Therapies such as occupational, speech, and physical therapy may help individuals with EOAD maintain independence and improve their quality of life.
Lifestyle modifications: Lifestyle modifications such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and social engagement may help to slow the progression of EOAD and improve cognitive function.
Clinical trials: Clinical trials of new medications and other treatments are ongoing. Individuals with EOAD may be eligible to participate in these trials.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD), there are steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing the disease:
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help to reduce the risk of EOAD.
Stay mentally active: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, playing games, and learning new skills can help to keep the brain busy and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Control high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol: These conditions can increase the risk of EOAD, so it is important to manage them through lifestyle modifications and medication as needed.
Get enough sleep: Poor sleep quality or quantity has been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline, so it is important to prioritize quality sleep.
Reduce stress: Chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline, so it is important to manage stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, or other stress-reducing activities.
Protect your head: Head injuries, especially those involving loss of consciousness, have been associated with an increased risk of EOAD, so it is vital to take precautions to protect your head during physical activities and sports.
Participate in cognitive training: Participating in structured mental training programs has been shown to improve cognitive function and may help to reduce the risk of EOAD.
It is important to note that the course of EOAD varies from person to person, and the effectiveness of treatment can also vary. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the disease’s progression and improve outcomes, so it is important to seek medical attention if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of EOAD.