In the United States more than 5 million people suffer with Alzheimer’s disease (AD); a condition that usually affects people who are older than 65 years old. Alzheimer’s disease is defined as a form of dementia (loss of brain function), a progressive degenerative process of the brain, and is the most common form of dementia in the world. In this disease people experience irreversible memory loss, decreased thinking and reasoning ability as well as behavior problems.
As we grow older our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases. However, research has determined that Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown. It has been linked to a genetic component, occurring in families who carry the Amyloid B protein on chromosome 21. This gene is present in approximately 20 to 25 percent of Alzheimer’s cases and is also found in patients with Down’s syndrome and is responsible for plaques and tangles in the brain. All people as they age develop plaques and tangles in their brain. However, people with Alzheimer’s disease develop far more than the ordinary individual. Alzheimer’s disease can also be inherited. This form is called Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD). According to the National Institute of Aging, if a parent has the familial form of Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), his or her child has a 50% chance of developing the condition.There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease; late or early onset and the only definite diagnosis of this disease is a brain biopsy after death. In the meantime Alzheimer’s dementia is diagnosed by a good medical history and symptoms.
There are two types of Alzheimer’s disease, late and early onset. Of the 5 million Americans who suffer with the disease, 5% of them developed a form of Alzheimer’s at an early age. If developed before 65 years of age, this disease is called early-onset dementia and has been diagnosed in people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Medical research agrees that almost all early onset disease is the inherited form, FAD. Unfortunately, this type of dementia progresses at a much more rapid rate.
Risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s dementia
- older than 65 years old
- family history
- genetic predisposition
Possible associations with the development of Alzheimer’s dementia
- long standing high blood pressure
- female gender
Early onset dementia attacks the Tennessee community
This past week, University of Tennessee head women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt made it known to the public that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. This was a shock to the nation because of her age and her legacy with the University of Tennessee. Who would ever imagine that a vibrant, energetic, 59-year-old female Hall of Fame coach could be affected with this disease?! Pat was without any physical problems; the picture of someone in excellent health. According to the Washington Post, Pat started experiencing memory problems and thought that this was a side effect of the medication she was taking to treat her rheumatoid arthritis. But after seeking further medical guidance and completing a full medical workup at Mayo clinic she found out that she was in the beginning phase of early onset dementia. Her announcing her diagnosis was courageous and makes the world realize that this disease could affect anyone; regardless of age, race, etc. Her disclosing her recent diagnosis also reminds us that we don’t have to feel or look sick to be suffering with a physical ailment.
Signs of early-onset dementia are similar to the signs of late-onset dementia
- regularly losing or misplacing items
- difficulty completing common tasks
- following simple directions
- personality changes
- poor judgment
- basic communication and language difficulties
- social withdrawal and problems
Treatment for early-onset dementia
The main focus of treatment for early-onset dementia is to first realize that there is no known cure for this disease; therefore prepare for the unpredictable. Don’t blame yourself. Some people will want to blame themselves for developing this disease or for a loved one developing it (Remember that Alzheimer’s dementia is due to brain damage; nothing someone did).Patience is a key factor. If a loved one has this disease being patient and realizing the disease’s progression will provide an environment supportive and comfortable. Next, there are prescription drugs available to help Alzheimer’s patients. Aricept is one of the drugs prescribed to help Alzheimer’s patients with memory loss.
Even though there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s dementia, we should not give up hope because medical researchers are working diligently and making strides in this area so that the future will be free of this debilitating disease. If anyone can confront early-onset dementia, it’s Pat Summitt. She has the courage and stamina needed to fight back! Her biggest defense was to seek medical attention and find out what’s going on so she knew exactly what she had to deal with. She didn’t ignore the signs her body was giving her. She knew something was going wrong with her memory and she sought medical adivice. That in itself is major in facing any challenge!
If you, your loved-one, or someone you know is demonstrating any of the signs of dementia please seek medical attention to find out what’s going on. Don’t ignore any sign that may be indicative of Alzheimer’s dementia.The sooner dementia is diagnosed the better. On the other hand if you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s dementia please remember to care for yourself. Care givers of Alzheimer’s family members are under a high level of stress. Not only are they caring for someone with this disease, they are also observing the downhill slide of their loved-one which is devastating! It is imperative to take breaks, alternate your caregiving services with another family member if possible, seek assistance from professional organizations. In Nashville the Mid-South Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Organization provides support services for people with Alzheimer’s and family members who care for them. Please contact them for any questions, assistance, etc. No one should have to face this disease alone. Reach out and grasp the help that is available.