Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age. Hereditary factors seem to be most often linked to the younger-onset (early onset) Alzheimer's that can affect people who are under age of 65. Since genetic factors can not be altered, people with a family history of Alzheimer's should be careful to follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce their risks of developing the disease.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be absolutely devastating – no matter the age. The debilitating neurological condition accounts for about 80% of all cases of dementia and is characterized by memory loss and the inability for a person to process familiar environments. While Alzheimer’s is usually associated with aging, there’s a small percentage of people that may develop symptoms before the age of 65 in what is called early onset Alzheimer’s. About 4% of all Alzheimer’s patients are younger than 65 – some may experience symptoms as early as in their 30s while in others, symptoms may not begin to show until they’re well in their 50s. 1
What Causes Early Onset Alzheimer’s?
The causes of early onset Alzheimer’s are still mostly unknown, but hereditary factors seem to be most often linked to the disease. Many cases stem from one of three mutated genes. A gene, which forms part of a chromosome in our cells, is essentially a blueprint for how our bodies function. They can impact everything from the enzymes we use for digestion to the color of the hair on our head. But genes can sometimes become mutated or damaged, which can cause them to behave abnormally. When mutated, three specific genes have been linked to early onset Alzheimer’s: presenilin I, presenilin II, and amyloid precursor protein. Presenilin I is considered a dominant mutation, which means that people with this mutation can pass it on to at least half of their children.2
The Implications Of Developing Early Onset Alzheimer’s
No matter what age a person develops Alzheimer’s, the symptoms will be similar – the main one being severe memory loss. Both early and late-onset Alzheimer’s are treated and cared for similarly.3
DNA testing is an option for those with relatives who have had Alzheimer’s. Currently, it is the best way to detect your risks before any symptoms may appear. If a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you can also go in for genetic counseling. A doctor will help you decide whether or not you should take the test, and what to do if you receive an adverse diagnosis.4 This type of counseling can help prepare you to take the appropriate steps to reduce your risks of developing the disease.
A Few Rays Of Hope In The Prevention And Treatment Of Alzheimer’s
One study done on people with early onset Alzheimer’s found that many were deficient in neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help transport messages between our cells. Researchers are continuing to explore this finding, as treating these deficiencies could help reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms.5
Because of their ability to strengthen the nervous system, Ayurvedic herbs such as ashwagandha, turmeric, and brahmi are being studied for their potential to halt or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s.6 Omega-3 fatty acids are also being studied as a potential dietary form of prevention.7
Since genetic factors cannot be altered or changed, the only way to reduce the risk of developing early onset Alzheimer’s is by keeping other causative factors at bay. Because strokes are one of the major causes of Alzheimer’s disease, doctors recommend avoiding smoking and keeping your blood pressure in check.8 Exercising regularly – both for the brain and the body – as well as getting good-quality sleep and keeping your stress levels to a minimum are absolutely essential in reducing your risk for all diseases, including Alzheimer’s.9 It can be comforting to know that we do have the power to take control of our bodies, even when our genes want to behave otherwise.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Alzheimer’s Association. “2014 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia 10, no. 2 (2014): e47-e92.|
|2.||↑||Campion, Dominique, Jean-Michel Flaman, Alexis Brice, Didier Hannequin, Bruno Dubois, Cosette Martin, Viviane Moreau et al. “Mutations of the presenilin I gene in families with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.” Human molecular genetics 4, no. 12 (1995): 2373-2377.|
|3.||↑||Filley, Christopher M., John Kelly, and Robert K. Heaton. “Neuropsychologic features of early- and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.” Archives of Neurology 43, no. 6 (1986): 574-576.|
|4.||↑||Tibben, A., M. Stevens, G. M. De Wert, M. F. Niermeijer, C. M. Van Duijn, and J. C. Van Swieten. “Preparing for presymptomatic DNA testing for early onset Alzheimer’s disease/cerebral haemorrhage and hereditary Pick disease.” Journal of medical genetics 34, no. 1 (1997): 63-72.|
|5.||↑||Francis, Paul T., Alan M. Palmer, Neil R. Sims, David M. Bowen, Alan N. Davison, Margaret M. Esiri, David Neary, Julie S. Snowden, and Gordon K. Wilcock. “Neurochemical studies of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease: possible influence on treatment.” New England Journal of Medicine 313, no. 1 (1985): 7-11.|
|6.||↑||Rao, Rammohan V., Olivier Descamps, Varghese John, and Dale E. Bredesen. “Ayurvedic medicinal plants for Alzheimer’s disease: a review.” Alzheimer’s research & therapy 4, no. 3 (2012): 1.|
|7.||↑||Cole, Greg M., Giselle P. Lim, Fusheng Yang, Bruce Teter, Aynun Begum, Qiulan Ma, Marni E. Harris-White, and Sally A. Frautschy. “Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease: Omega-3 fatty acid and phenolic anti-oxidant interventions.” Neurobiology of aging 26, no. 1 (2005): 133-136.|
|8.||↑||Whitmer, Rachel A., Stephen Sidney, Joseph Selby, S. Claiborne Johnston, and Kristine Yaffe. “Midlife cardiovascular risk factors and risk of dementia in late life.” Neurology 64, no. 2 (2005): 277-281.|
|9.||↑||Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention, HelpGuide International.|