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Does Early Onset Alzheimer’s Progress Faster?

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A silhouette image of a human head and part of it getting erased using a pencil eraser. A representation of memory loss.

Under normal circumstances, deciding how you want to live when you retire isn’t typically a complicated decision. And no one wants to think how the possibility of needing memory care after developing Alzheimer’s or dementia could affect their retirement decision, let alone wondering about developing it earlier in life.

As if Alzheimer’s wasn’t destructive enough when someone develops it, there is a less common subtype called early onset Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there is some indication that the early onset form may progress faster than the more common late onset.

In addition, we’re also exploring a few tips on coping with a diagnosis—specifically with early onset because typically, it affects a person’s life more the earlier it develops.

Primary Forms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the brain. Researchers are still unsure of exactly what the cause is. Typically it starts with memory loss or forgetfulness but eventually progresses until a person cannot hold a conversation or react to their environment. 

The following are the two subtypes of Alzheimer’s:

Early Onset

Typically any form of dementia is age-related. But a less common subtype of Alzheimer’s is called early onset Alzheimer’s. This form of the disease can develop as early as the 30s or 40s, which is a lot earlier than the typical 65-plus.

Another type of Alzheimer’s within this subtype is called Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD). Those diagnosed with this form of the disease typically have at least 1 direct relative, like a parent who has it, and quite often more generations before them.

Late Onset 

This is the most common type of Alzheimer’s that affects people over the age of 65. Unlike early onset, which researchers have linked to genetics, there doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to who develops this form of the disease.

Causes of Alzheimer’s

Scientists still don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s. The current thinking is that an abnormal buildup of proteins around the brain cells causes plaque accumulation. Over time, these brain cells begin dying.

While we may not know the cause, there are certainly some risk factors to be aware of:

  • Age
  • Family history: there is a certain gene called apolipoprotein E that scientists have linked to Alzheimer’s
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Head trauma or injury
  • Heart disease
A female young adult touching her head with a fading effect on her head is a symbol of fading memory.

Does Early Onset Progress Faster?

Some research suggests that early onset or FAD develops faster than other forms of the disease. But when we consider how rare this subtype of Alzheimer’s is, it’s hard to prove this definitively.

When stepping back and looking at the big picture, the effect it has on an individual’s life may make it appear to develop faster. For example, if a 70-year-old develops Alzheimer’s, it’s extremely destructive. But that senior may already be living in an assisted or independent living situation, so there isn’t a drastic jump to get the assistance they need.

On the other hand, if someone in their 30s or 40s develops FAD, the effect will likely be enormous as the disease progresses. This individual is likely in the middle of a career or raising a family—all things that will take a hit from an illness that affects their cognitive function.

Coping with Early Onset Alzheimer’s

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s. If someone develops the disease in their old age, assisted living may be an option for the early stages. Then memory care could be beneficial as the disease progresses.

Coping with early onset Alzheimer’s could be a bit more complicated. In these situations, a person is likely still in the peak of their career or responsible for caring for a family. So, coping strategies may look different depending on the situation. Let’s look at a few tips for dealing with FAD:

  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may help maintain mental function for longer.
  • Don’t be afraid to join support groups and lean on friends and family for support as things become difficult.
  • Discuss your job position with your employer. It may be possible to take a different position that’s more manageable as the disease progresses.
  • Learn everything you can about the disease and think about the future. For example, financial planning, estate planning, insurance coverage, or where you will retire.
  • Focus on taking care of your body—eat a healthy diet, stay active, or learn techniques for relaxing and reducing stress.

Preparing for the Future

Because there is no cure for this horrible disease, it’s important to consider the future if you or a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A significant step in this is planning for care as the disease progresses. This could be finding a qualified caretaker for live-in assistance or exploring appropriate senior living communities.

If you’re considering senior living communities in Middletown that offer memory care, give us a shout. The knowledgeable team at Meadowcrest is happy to answer your questions and book a community tour for you.

Written by Meadowcrest at Middletown

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