There are approximately 750,000 Canadians (and at least 44 million people worldwide) living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. There are two main types of Alzheimer’s disease that one can be diagnosed with: Early-onset Alzheimer’s and Late-onset Alzheimer’s.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is typically diagnosed in individuals who are younger than age 65 (with the most common age of diagnosis being between 40 and 50.) It’s rare in the sense that only 5% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have early-onset. Because Alzheimer’s disease isn’t something that is actively watched for in younger individuals, getting an accurate diagnosis can be a long and oftentimes frustrating process. In fact, symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s are often mistaken for other medical conditions, including stress, which makes it very possible to have a misdiagnosis. There is no single test that can confirm or rule out Alzheimer’s disease. However, if you’re noticing ongoing memory problems or other symptoms that you think could be related to Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to write them down and share them with your primary healthcare professional, such as your family doctor. It’s unknown what causes early-onset Alzheimer’s, but rare inherited genes in families are thought to be a cause. This is also sometimes referred to as “familial” Alzheimer’s disease.
Individuals diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s may experience symptoms such as having trouble remembering names or have trouble coming up with the correct names, have trouble coming up with the right words, have challenges performing tasks (such as at work), as well as misplace objects. They may also have difficulty with planning and organization.
Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease that an individual is diagnosed with and it usually affects those who are 65 years of age or older. Late-onset Alzheimer’s can or cannot run in families. There’s no specific gene that causes it, and researchers have not been able to figure out why some people get it while others do not.
Individuals with late-onset Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care due to the severity of their symptoms. In addition to memory loss, they will need help with daily activities and personal care (such as hygiene), be unaware of their surroundings, have trouble communicating, as well as lose their ability to walk, sit, and even swallow. People with late-onset Alzheimer’s are also more susceptible to developing infections.
There is also another stage of Alzheimer’s disease known as Moderate-onset. This is one of the longest stages of the disease as it can last for several years before progressing to a later stage. Symptoms include forgetfulness, confusion, feelings of moodiness as well as other behavioural changes, feeling withdrawn, and changes in sleeping patterns. Some individuals with moderate-onset Alzheimer’s may also have trouble controlling their bladder or bowels.
Whether you or someone you know has dementia, the day-to-day living can be hard. As a result, it’s also not uncommon to develop depression and anxiety as a result of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. If this is the case, patients and their families can benefit from speaking to a counsellor for help on how to cope with such a diagnosis. In addition, it’s also important for someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to continue their daily activities for as long as their bodies allow. Continue doing the things you enjoy, and even find new activities that can fulfill you or that you can enjoy together with your family.