Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t just affect the aged

  • 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. 

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    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. 


    However, a doctor or other medical professional with AD could be putting people's lives at risk. Alzheimer's advocate Richard Taylor, Ph.D was treating patients at the time of his diagnosis. He resigned from treating patients, but continued to use his formidable knowledge as a teacher, where he could receive cues for his memory issues when needed. Taylor has continued to teach in many forms years into his disease, though of course he increasingly needs assistance with his work. 


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    For many people who can't continue to work, the financial loss is huge. Not only is a salary lost to the family, but medical bills pile up. The woman interviewed for the USA Today article eventually lost her home. She has no health insurance. As she says, this isn't the life she was planning on. 


    It's safe to say that early on-set Alzheimer's disease doesn't fit well into anyone's plan. For that matter Alzheimer's disease at any age doesn't fit the blueprint of the life most of us have planned. That's the reason for awareness campaigns. Research is being conducted on many fronts and some of the findings are extremely positive. We need to encourage funding to keep this research moving forward until a way to prevent or cure Alzheimer's disease is found.


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    Bursack, C.B. (2012, March 5) Is it Alzheimer’s, a different type of dementia or something else entirely? HealthCentral. Retrieved from

    Sedensky, M. (2012, March 23) Dementia’s youngest victims often defy stereotypes. USA Today online. Retrieved from


    Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Retrieved from


    Martin, D. (2011, November 23) Pat Summitt Takes Increased Role in Fight Against Alzheimer's. HealthCentral. Retrieved from


    Bursack, C.B. (2007, June 4) Richard Taylor's First-Hand Account of What It’s Like To Have Alzheimer's. HealthCentral. Retrieved from


Published On: March 28, 2012