The Twenty-Year Old Alzheimer’s Sufferers

memoryAlzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. It is a slowly progressive disease of the brain that is characterized by impairment of the memory and then eventually by disturbances in planning, reasoning, language and perception. Alzheimer’s disease is startlingly common and is thought to effect up to 50% of people over the age of 85. That being said, not every person will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease – many older people can live well past their 100th birthday without any type of dementia.

Many scientists believe that Alzheimer’s disease results from an increase in the accumulation or the production of a protein, called beta-amyloid protein in the brain that leads to nerve cell death. This cell death is progressive and is what causes the memory loss and the problems with everyday reasoning and language.

Alzheimer’s disease causes a whole host of symptoms, some of which are below:

  • Slow and gradual memory loss. This memory loss is usually considered to be a ‘normal part of aging’ and can be dismissed by family members as just a normal thing that happens during the aging process. It might not be until other symptoms appear that family members realize something other than ‘normal aging’ is happening.
  • Lack of recollection of recent events, particular difficulty with short-term memory
  • Forgetting very simple things, like having turned the oven on or to turn off the gas
  • Mild personality changes, including lack of spontaneity, tendency to withdraw from social interactions and mild apathy are all common
  • Difficulty in figures and facts as well as abstract thinking. Cognitive and intellectual function begins to decrease, and alongside this, the individual may become more irritable, quarrelsome and agitated.
  • Diminishing ability to dress and toilet properly – individual may forget the things which need to be done in order to keep clean and hygienic
  • Confusion and disorientation around the days/months of the year and where the individual is
  • In the latter stages of the disease, the patient may wander, be incapable of engaging in conversation, be erratic and uncooperative and lose bladder and bowel control.

Because Alzheimer’s is thought of as being a type of dementia, it is typically associated with those over the age of 65. However, recent research has come to light that shows patients as young as 25 are now being treated for Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Disease Society estimates that between 2 and 5% develop Alzheimer’s in their forties and fifties, with around 0.5% of sufferers developing Alzheimer’s even earlier than this.

An Alzheimer’s nurse who specializes in working with younger Alzheimer’s sufferers said this, ‘We currently have a lady who’s referred to us who’s only 56 years old. She was a sister on a medical ward only three years ago. We have a gentleman who’s only thirty six. The people we’ve had in their twenties are few and far between, we’ve had two, but that’s two too many.’

It also seems that services for Alzheimer’s are only really set up for those over the age of seventy and those in later life – there is little advice or information for those who develop Alzheimer’s during their working years. Support is not available for sufferers of Alzheimer’s or families of those with Alzheimer’s and that may be because we are only recently becoming aware that Alzheimer’s can strike at a very early age.

Lack of support may be because experiencing dementia-type symptoms in your twenties and thirties could simply be dismissed as being caused by an over-stressful lifestyle or abuse of drink or drugs. Patients in this age group may also be less likely to come forward to their doctor as having memory loss at that age could be very frightening.

Luckily, medical advances mean that Alzheimer’s sufferers can lead a relatively normal life. The earlier treatment is started, the longer the sufferer can stave off the latter stages of the disease – so it is important that you see your doctor if you begin to experience any of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s.