“In my case, symptoms began to appear when I was only 57. In fact, the doctors believe early-onset Alzheimer’s has a strong genetic predictor, and that it may have been progressing for some years before I was diagnosed.” – Pat Summitt
Anyone who’s gone through the experience of a loved one developing Alzheimer’s disease and progressively deteriorating to a shell of their former selves knows how devastating this brain disease is for both patient and those who love and care for him or her.
Memory Performance Changes May Show Up in 20s with Family History of Alzheimer’s
Startlingly, as the latest research shows, Alzheimer’s disease risk isn’t confined to older individuals. Changes in memory performance may start showing up in men and women in their 20s if they come from families with Alzheimer’s disease history. Indeed, deficits in memory and thinking are the first clinical presentations of this progressive neurological disorder.
According to the research from the Translational Genomics Research Institute, such higher risk is more pronounced in men with a family history of the disease, as well as among those who have diabetes, are carriers of a common genetic chain in APOE, a gene that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk, and those who may have a lower educational attainment.
What makes this risk even more concerning, however, is the fact that there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, nor effective treatments that slow the disease.
An estimated 5 million Americans now have Alzheimer’s disease, and projections for 2050 hint at some 14 million people that will be afflicted with the brain-robbing condition.
Diagnosing Early Personality Changes May Help Predict Alzheimer’s Disease in Earliest Stages
In a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Mayo Clinic researchers recruited and tested cognitively normal people who were genetically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as well as a control group who did not have the genetic predisposition. All study participants were given medical and neurological tests and were also screened for depression, and physical and cognitive function.
Researchers wanted to test their theory that when personality changes begin early, when symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be less noticeable in those with a genetic risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease, it may be possible to predict the disease in its earliest stages. The behavioral changes include mood swings, depression, and anxiety, and may be so subtle they’re barely noticeable.
Although not all people who have MCI ultimately develop Alzheimer’s disease, for those with a genetic component for Alzheimer’s, the risk may be as high as 90 percent. Researchers said their findings suggest that further research may help in the development of safer treatments and preventive options for some of the more severe behavioral challenges affecting people who have Alzheimer’s disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
The Alzheimer’s Association has a comprehensive list of the 10 early signs and symptoms that may indicate Alzheimer’s disease.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
It’s not occasionally forgetting someone’s name that should be concerning, but forgetting information that was recently learned. Another common symptom to be on the lookout for is if you, or someone you know or care about frequently can’t recall or doesn’t remember dates and/or events that are important. Instead, he or she repeatedly asks you for the same information. It’s also likely that those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease rely more on notes they’ve written or family members to remind them of things they need to do, where things are, what medicines to take, appointments and so on.
2. Problem-solving or planning challenges.
While it’s not uncommon for aging individuals to have difficulty now and then in balancing a checkbook, when the ability to figure out a plan or intelligently work with numbers (paying bills on time, figuring out budget) occurs a lot, it could be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s. Trouble concentrating on tasks, even conversations, and requiring longer to do everyday things are other problem-solving and planning challenges experienced by those who may be in the early stages of the disease.
3. Finding it hard to complete routine, familiar tasks.
Whether at home, work, or enjoying leisure activities, someone with developing Alzheimer’s disease may find increasing difficulty doing everyday tasks. They may, for example, forget where their church or the grocery store is, or become confused over how to drive the car. Not being able to recall how a game works or performing a work-related task may pose problems as well. Note that these symptoms are different than asking someone how to program a piece of electronic equipment or change settings, such as in a smartphone or computer, which are typical age-related changes, not precursors of Alzheimer’s.
4. Experiencing confusion over place or time.
Forgetting where they are, how they got there, losing track of time passing, seasons and dates is symptomatic of early Alzheimer’s disease progression. Not being able to understand something, the timing of the football game, for example, that hasn’t started yet, is another example of someone just beginning Alzheimer’s. If someone gets mixed up about what day of the week it is, but quickly figures it out, that’s more of a typical age-related change.
5. Inability to or difficulty in understanding spatial relationships, visual images.
Another common sign a person with Alzheimer’s may display related to vision. He or she may have trouble reading, judging distance, inability to differentiate contrast or color, making driving increasingly difficult. Cataracts, however, is not a sign of Alzheimer’s, but more related to age.
6. Speech problems.
Normal age-related change means a person may find it hard to select the right work on occasion, whereas someone with Alzheimer’s may have considerable difficulty conversing with others, struggle with words, stop in the middle of a sentence, not knowing where to go from there, or endlessly repeat themselves.
7. Losing things and being unable to find them.
Everyone occasionally misplaces things, necessitating retracing steps to find them. That’s typical age-related change. Someone with Alzheimer’s, however, may put something down or away in an unusual place (like keys in the refrigerator), underwear in the garbage, and not be able to figure out where they left them. This may result in the person accusing others of deliberately hiding the things or stealing them. According to medical experts, this begins to happen more frequently in those with Alzheimer’s.
8. Problems with judgment.
Those with Alzheimer’s begin to have poor or decreased ability to make good decisions. Their judgment is off, with the result that they may make some very poor choices. Giving inappropriate sums of money to a charity or others, inattentiveness to personal care and grooming are other examples of judgment problems affecting those with Alzheimer’s. This is different than the typical age-related change of occasionally making a bad decision.
9. Withdrawal and isolation from social activities.
When someone with Alzheimer’s starts to avoid social situations, hobbies, projects, sports, or other social activities, they may do so because of the changes they’ve experienced that they know they’re having trouble with. This is not the same as getting tired of obligations associated with family, work or social venues.
10. Mood and personality changes.
As people get older, they tend to revert to familiar ways of doing things and become irritated when something disrupts their habits. Someone with Alzheimer’s, however, are often easily upset, can become anxious, afraid, confused, depressed, or suspicious, especially when they are away from their normal environment.
While Alzheimer’s disease may not strike you or someone in your family, if it does and you see symptoms of its development, schedule or encourage a doctor’s appointment right away. After some tests, the doctor and patient can explore various treatments to help provide some symptom relief and also preserve and extend independence for those detected with Alzheimer’s early. There are also clinical trials for Alzheimer’s medications and treatment that he or she may be eligible for.