Receiving an Alzheimer's diagnosis at the age of 75 can be a crushing blow. Imagine, then, what it would be like to receive such a diagnosis when you are 35, 40 or 45-years-old? You're at your prime in many ways because you've got experience in your work, yet are nowhere near retirement. You have children, maybe yet in grade school. You've got a mortgage, car payments and plans to travel when your kids are older. You're on a roll - until you realize that you are forgetting things. Important things. Eventually, you see a doctor and the diagnosis is early on-set Alzheimer's disease.
A USA Today story titled Dementia's youngest victims often defy stereotypes, focuses on a 49-year-old nurse who found herself forgetting to pick up her grandchildren, forgetting plans she had with her husband and making mistakes at work. She thought it was stress.
However, mistakes became too frequent and too potentially serious to ignore. She scheduled an appointment with her doctor and the diagnosis was dementia, eventually narrowed down to the most common type of dementia which is Alzheimer's disease.
According to the article, "symptoms of dementia in a younger patient can be glaring. But diagnosis is often complicated by the fact that it's so uncommon in younger patients and that so many other conditions could cause the symptoms."
The article states that there has been an increase in younger people seeing their physicians because of memory lapses. They are afraid it's Alzheimer's. It rarely is. However, when AD is the diagnosis, it's devastating.
Since age is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, it is generally seen as an "old people's disease." Therefore younger people with the disease often have problems with society that older people don't have. Their AD diagnosis flies in the face of the stereotypical notion of Alzheimer's disease. Employers, friends and even family members often can't quite understand how someone that young can have dementia.
Alzheimer's disease diagnosed before the age of 65 is generally termed early on-set Alzheimer's. According to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, an estimated half million Americans younger than age 65 have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
Can a person with early on-set AD continue to work?
Whether a person can continue to work depends largely on the type of work a person does.
When college basketball coach Pat Summitt announced that, at age 59, she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, she vowed to keep coaching. Summit is a legend in college basketball, and fans were delighted to hear this news. Summit will likely coach until the time comes that her AD affects her ability to coach effectively.
An accountant, if he or she can receive support at work, may be able to continue for awhile, or may be able to step down to a position where there is someone to check his or her work.