What is Early-Onset Alzheimer’s?


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Bethany knew that she had Alzheimer’s disease. It had begun creeping up on her only a couple years prior, when she realized that she was having trouble driving around town. Bethany had lived in her small town for years, but was suddenly getting lost in familiar places. She was also having trouble with word-finding, often struggling to fill in the blanks in a sentence. Her family began to notice it, too. After undergoing testing at a local neurology center, she was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s.

Unlike most websites, I am not going to give you a list of statistics about the disease. Instead, I’m going to explain what it means and how it might affect you.

  • Early-Onset Alzheimer’s is different from “Later-Onset” Alzheimer’s. In fact, I wish Early-Onset was called something entirely different.
  • Early-Onset means someone receives a diagnosis before they are in their mid-60s.
  • Early-Onset is often familial. Not always, but often. There is a blood test available to see if other family members carry the gene.
  • “Early Onset” and “early stages” are NOT the same thing. I hear a lot of people say, “She’s in the early onset phase of the disease,” when what they mean to say is, “She’s in the early stages.” Early onset means earlier in life. Early stage just means that you’re in the beginning stages of the disease.
  • Early-Onset tends to have a more rapid course than later-onset Alzheimer’s.

Early-Onset is also, often, more challenging than other dementia diagnoses. Recall that dementia is an umbrella term, and that Alzheimer’s is just one type of dementia. It tends to be more challenging because of the age at which people are affected.

In good news, there is a lot more research and a lot more help available now than ever before. I really recommend, if this is your diagnosis, or you think it may be, to sign up for a research study at a large hospital that does dementia testing. This can connect you with the right people who can help you and your family.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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