There are many things we know will change as we get older - it may get harder to maintain our youthful physiques, gravity might start to exert its full force upon us, our health becomes less a question of “if” and more a question of “when”, and our memories might start to get a little fuzzy around the edges. Many of us may look at the statistics, that 1 out of every 9 Americans over the age of 65 are impacted by Alzheimer’s and accept that this disease may be part of our futures.
Early onset Alzheimer’s can be terrifying because it’s not something that comes with age - it’s not our future, it’s our now. Defined as the onset of Alzheimer’s before 65 years of age, early onset Alzheimer’s poses unique challenges. First and foremost is diagnosis. No matter life stage, it is important to stay current with your physician and seek medical help for any physical or behavioral changes. Symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s are often attributed to increased stress at work or other conditions. An annual physical is a great time to bring up any concerns, but you should always check with your doctor if you notice any sudden changes. There are also a number of hospitals in Illinois that specialize in memory care, including, RUSH, Northwestern Medicine, and Southern Illinois University, School of Medicine.
It’s also important to address the social aspect of early onset Alzheimer’s, for both individuals diagnosed with the disease as well as their families. Because this disease is associated with older populations, there may be limited peer support for those diagnosed at a younger age. Ensuring that you are getting, and staying, involved with your community can lead to great benefits in your health and wellbeing. There are also various organizations that are working to build communities within Illinois for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or caring for those who have received a diagnosis, including Illinois Cognitive Resources Network and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Individuals are often in their prime working years, which may lead to an abrupt halt in careers and a pivot in financial plans. This can have a larger impact on family dynamics, particularly if they have children. Not only is this difficult to manage for other adults in the household, but children may also find themselves experiencing a role-reversal as their parents require additional care. Beyond just the financial implications, many legal matters may also become pressing - such as wills, powers of attorney, and advanced directives.
Studies suggest that the prevalence of early-onset Alzheimer’s is increasing, with rates of diagnosis increasing over 131% from 2013 to 2017, particularly among individuals aged 30-44 years old. The exact cause of the increase is not clear, although improved awareness, advancements in diagnostic techniques, and shifting lifestyle patterns might contribute to the observed trends.
Early detection and diagnosis are pivotal. Being aware of the subtle signs - such as memory lapses, cognitive changes, and shifts in behavior - is crucial. Seeking professional evaluation at the earliest signs of concern can aid in better management and planning for the future.