Alzheimer's At 40! What Are The Symptoms Of The Cruel, Incurable Disease?
While it is common for many people to believe that Alzheimer's disease is a condition that affects seniors in old age, this is not always the case. Not only can it develop in people under the age of 65, but it can also affect people much younger than that! Sometimes early Alzheimer's disease affects people as young as 30-40 years old. According to various sources, this problem affects about 5-10% of patients. This irreversible, progressive brain disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to perform the simplest tasks. Initially, it can be difficult to notice due to vague signs that are often downplayed or confused with other ailments. Eventually, however, it leads to a person becoming completely unable to function independently. Despite medical advances, the causes of Alzheimer's are still unclear and there is no cure to reverse the disease or at least stop it. What are the general symptoms of this slowly debilitating disease? What symptoms should young people be concerned about, and what might indicate that we are dealing with early Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, an incurable and progressive neurodegenerative disease, leading to the death of the patient. In 2006, there were approximately 26.6 million sufferers worldwide. It is expected to affect one in 85 people by 2050. The majority of those sufferers are over the age of 65, so symptoms are often associated with age-related mental decline. The disease affects an estimated 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 6 people over the age of 80. However, 1 in about 20 cases of Alzheimer's disease affects people between the ages of 40 and 65. Sometimes it even develops in 30-year-olds, but these cases are very rare. This is called early-onset Alzheimer's disease and we will talk about this later in the article. The causes of Alzheimer's disease and its onset are still not fully understood. Unfortunately, the therapy to stop or reverse its progression is also unknown. Currently, only symptomatic treatment is possible, which may slow down the progression of the disease, relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life of patients. The disease process causes damage to the cerebral cortex, resulting in a progressive decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities. Alzheimer's develops slowly and over time causes increasing problems in everyday life. In many cases, it develops unnoticed because the symptoms of the disease are often underestimated, e.g. by explaining them by stress or by their similarity to other ailments. Thus, before the disease manifests itself fully, it runs its course secretly and can progress without a diagnosis for years. However, the average life expectancy after diagnosis is only 4-7 years. Less than 3% of patients manage to survive more than 14 years.
Stages of the disease
Due to the incurable and debilitating nature of Alzheimer's, those who struggle with it require help from those around them. The role of primary caregiver usually includes a spouse or close relative. The stages of Alzheimer's disease provide a general idea of how a patient's abilities change after the onset of symptoms. The stages are divided into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe/advanced stages. And we'll briefly explain them. In the early stage, the person can function independently. He or she can continue to lead his or her current life; drive, work and participate in social life. Nevertheless, patients have the impression that they have memory loss. Symptoms are not very visible at this stage, but family and loved ones may notice them. Mood swings and personality problems may occur, among other things, and there may be some or a whole host of depressive symptoms. Eventually, independent functioning becomes increasingly difficult. In the middle stage of the disease, in addition to memory problems, speech and orientation are increasingly impaired, and psychotic symptoms also appear. Patients, for example, don't recognize places they are familiar with and often have trouble finding their way home. Progressive disorders even lead to problems recognizing loved ones. It may also lead to hallucinations and delusions. At this stage of the disease, it is necessary to take care of the patient. In the final stage, the symptoms of dementia are very severe. Patients lose the ability to respond to their surroundings, hold conversations, and eventually control movement. At this stage, they require constant care and assistance with daily activities such as grooming, dressing, and washing. They experience problems walking, sitting, and even swallowing meals. Eventually, it gets to the point where patients don't get out of bed, have trouble holding their urine and bowel movements. There is a complete lack of recognition of loved ones and even the times of day and night. Gradually, vital functions are lost, leading to death.
Although the progression of the disease in its advanced stages is very distressing, the beginnings of Alzheimer's are uncharacteristic and easily overlooked. Memory problems, while initially minor, are usually one of the first symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Association of America has created a list of the 10 most common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Briefly, these are memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or problem solving, difficulty performing familiar tasks, confusion with a sense of time or feeling disoriented, problems understanding visual images and spatial relationships, previously non-existent problems with spoken or written words, losing/placing things in the wrong places and losing the ability to retrace steps, experiencing changes in judgment or decision making, and changes in mood and personality. Of course, the symptoms listed, called warning signs, have their own development and described broader explanations. But if you notice at least 2 of the 10 in yourself or a loved one, don't ignore them. It is then worth making an appointment to see a doctor for a more in-depth diagnosis.
Early Alzheimer's disease
As we mentioned earlier, although Alzheimer's disease mainly affects people over the age of 65, it unfortunately happens, to people much younger as well. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease most likely develops as a result of a combination of factors. The exact cause of the disease has not yet been determined, scientists are still trying to solve the mystery of what exactly influences the initiation of the disease. Early-onset Alzheimer's disease is estimated to affect between 220,000 and 640,000 Americans in the United States alone. People between the ages of 30 and 50 should not experience the so-called 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. If they do, they may have an early version of the disease. What symptoms long before the disease develops can indicate early Alzheimer's disease, and what should young people pay special attention to?
Forgetfulness and memory loss
It happens to all of us that we forget even the simplest things and there are plenty of such examples. Sometimes we have trouble remembering where we put our car keys, sometimes we are not sure if we locked the door behind us when leaving. This can happen to anyone at any age, especially when, for example, we do something mechanically while being in a hurry. However, when we start to notice a bit more persistent forgetfulness that gives us trouble or breaks in our memory, it is usually a sign that something is wrong. Importantly, people with early-onset Alzheimer's disease can begin to notice abnormal and chronic memory lapses as early as age 30 or 40! If someone has trouble orienting themselves, suddenly doesn't know where they came from or where they actually are, or has to struggle to find the right words during a conversation, or consistently forgets what a loved one (such as a partner) has asked them to do, these abnormalities are worth noting. If the person is too young to have experienced these things, these may be the slowly developing first signs of early memory loss.
Although noticeable memory problems may be associated with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, the signs that something may be wrong may be much broader. In fact, experts note that memory loss, which is closely associated with Alzheimer's disease and is a well-known symptom, may be less pronounced in people with early-onset Alzheimer's. Instead of noticeable memory problems, people who have early-onset Alzheimer's often complain of difficulty finding the right words when talking. They may experience problems with attention and orientation, as well as simple math. According to research, patients with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, compared to patients with late-onset Alzheimer's disease, have better memory recognition scores and semantic memory but have poorer attention, language, executive functions, ideomotor effects, and visuospatial skills.
Mood swings and personality changes
Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may initially be slight but, over time, increased difficulty in making decisions and difficulty in planning and problem-solving. Those closest to the person with the disease may notice changes in personality and mood swings. They may notice, for example, that their previously hard-working wife/husband suddenly complains of constant fatigue and is unable to deal with as many issues as before. However, these symptoms are similar to those of many other problems, which is why early Alzheimer's often goes unnoticed even when it is present…
Withdrawal from work and social life
As we have already mentioned, symptoms of Alzheimer's disease that appear earlier than usual are taken to be, for example, symptoms of stress related to any work-related problems or busy responsibilities, but also symptoms of menopause or depression. People with early-onset Alzheimer's who were once energetic, very hardworking, and focused on their demanding jobs may begin to notice a worsening decline in concentration, motivation, or productivity that is out of character. These individuals may also begin to isolate themselves from co-workers, acquaintances, family, and friends. They find it increasingly difficult to socialize and don't feel as comfortable as they did before. They may find that they neglect or give up hobbies they used to enjoy.
Diagnosis of the disease
Early diagnosis of the disease is very important, as it provides opportunities for more effective symptomatic treatment and a better quality of life. However, by appearing first symptoms, taken as we mentioned earlier for example as symptoms of stress, patients are often misdiagnosed, which leads to incorrect treatment. However, a thorough diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, appropriate tests, and examinations are able to make an accurate diagnosis, confirm or exclude the disease in a patient. Research is continually being conducted on various therapeutic methods, but at present Alzheimer's, unfortunately, remains incurable. Fortunately, there are ways to start treating some of the symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's disease once it has been diagnosed and stop its progression for a while. Regular physical activity, mental exercise, prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and a diet rich in antioxidants can help slow its progression. Patients are given medications to improve memory (like formulas that provide essential ingredients for proper brain function) and improve sleep quality. At this point, however, no pharmacological agents will reverse Alzheimer's disease.
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