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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

Alzheimer's: No longer a disease just for seniors

Commonsense Caregiving


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One of the stigmas attached to Alzheimer's disease is that it is a malady which only strikes people in their senior years. This couldn't be farther from the truth! The fact is that the incidence of people being diagnosed in their 50s, or younger, is rising dramatically.

If Alzheimer's disease is determined to be the problem before the age of 65, it is considered to be early-onset Alzheimer's.

The genetic path of inheritance is much greater in situations involving early-onset. For instance, those who have parents or grandparents with a history of having developed the disease at a younger age have a higher risk of developing it themselves.

To put it succinctly, the risk of developing Alzheimer's is strongly influenced by our genes.

There are three acknowledged genes that can carry mutations causing early-onset Alzheimer's. They are known as: APP, PSEN1 and PSEN2. If a parent carries such mutations, each child has a 50 percent chance of inheriting early-onset Alzheimer's.

However, there is a fourth known Alzheimer's gene, APOE. Unlike the other three, APOE serves to actually increase the risk of developing the disease.

Many researchers believe that early-onset Alzheimer's progresses at a faster rate than later-onset. Although there is no hard evidence of this, from all I have seen I believe it to be true.

When this disease invades so early in life, a number of problems quickly unfold. These newly stricken patients may still be caring for an elderly parent who is battling the same illness. Meanwhile, they may also have their own children still living at home.

This makes them part of what is now called "The Sandwich Generation." They find themselves "sandwiched" between generations.

Not long ago I was in the Philadelphia area as the guest speaker for an event dealing with Alzheimer's. While there I met a man at the young age of 39, already in the end stages of the disease. That was without a doubt an eye-opener for me. His symptoms started at the tender age of 30!

It is vitally important that the general public learn that this disease does not just affect senior citizens.

Take a look at Pat Summitt, woman's basketball coach for the University of Tennessee. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 59. This woman was physically and mentally active all of her life and this heartbreaking disease still got a hold of her.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of dementia, it's important to talk to your doctor about it immediately, no matter the age!

An early diagnosis is crucial in how the disease should be approached. The medications that are currently available work best at treating the symptoms in the early stages of the disease. They may help maintain cognitive abilities two to three years longer throughout the fight.

I met numerous people in their 50s who have this illness. Since then, some have become very close friends of mine and still live fairly active lives.

It certainly makes a big difference having the right team put in place as early as possible. By "team" I mean family, friends and medical professionals. Early diagnosis is truly one of the keys to managing the symptoms of the disease.

Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth .net. His books "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness" can be found at www.commonsensecare

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