When we think of Alzheimer’s symptoms we think of memory loss, yet this is not necessarily the case with younger onset Alzheimer's. Younger onset Alzheimer’s may present symptoms such as poor judgement and skewed thinking patterns before memory loss becomes evident.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) studied 7,815 people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The point of the study was to determine if symptoms differed according to age of onset.
The average age of the people in the group was 75, with the youngest person aged 36 and the oldest 110. Records were kept of symptoms starting with the first probable symptom that made them wonder about the possibility of dementia.
The scientists found that when they looked at both thinking skills and behavioral problems the younger people were more likely to first experience depression or other behavioral symptoms such as anxiety rather than memory issues. Conversely, older volunteers more often showed memory loss as their first symptom.
Different tests at different ages
Dr. Jo Barnes, Alzheimer's Research UK Senior Research Fellow at UCL and the study's lead author told Medical News Today in an interview that, "An awareness of symptoms other than memory loss is vital for helping to diagnose Alzheimer's, particularly for those people whose early symptoms are not typical of the disease. Our findings suggest a need for doctors to use tests that do not solely or disproportionately focus on memory, but which also take into account some of the different ways that Alzheimer's can manifest."
Brain images in the past have shown that Alzheimer’s affects different parts of the brain. These images back up the conclusions of this study.
It’s important to understand, however, that not every older person will first present memory issues as a sign of Alzheimer’s disease and that some younger people will. Alzheimer’s diagnosis is still an inexact science, misdiagnoses are made and the disease is often caught at later stages in some people than in others, depending on overall health and even educational level.
As with every Alzheimer’s issue, there is not yet a clear cut method to diagnose younger onset or classic onset (older) Alzheimer’s. Doctors and the public at large need to stay on top of new findings, but the most important thing is for people to see a doctor when there is any sign of personality change, depression or memory issues. Dementia symptoms may not be caused by dementia - there are curable problems that can present dementia-like symptoms.
If you or someone you love is worried about dementia, it's wise to seek a medical opinion early. Living in fear and denial can set back treatment of a curable disease or delay help if, indeed, dementia is the cause of distress.