With so many diseases and conditions to worry about, most people assume it is safe to be concerned with Alzheimer’s disease at an older age. But a new study revealed that an Alzheimer’s risk gene, discovered around two years ago, damages the wiring of the brain around 50 years earlier than the age people are generally diagnosed with the actual disease – 60 years or older.
This means people in their 20s are already being affected by the risk gene, although they aren’t showing symptoms and might not actually develop Alzheimer’s later on.
“For some time, I think we tend to make the mistake that Alzheimer’s disease for example is a disease of late life because it manifests late in life clinically, but the thing that I think is going on and these studies are starting to point out is that there’s a lot of changes that occur in the brain probably very early in life,” said Paul Nussbaum, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist. “You’re probably going to see treatments coming out down the road, that what’ll happen is it’ll stop the trigger early on in life.”
Alzheimer’s is one of about 100 types of dementia, said Nussbaum, also the chair of the advisory board for Alzheimer’s prevention at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. He said Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and has a gradual onset of 10 or more years.
“Typically memory problems occur first,” Nussbaum said. “They tend to get lost, so there’s what we call visual-spatial deficits. Ultimately there are changes and decline in the ability to organize, to plan, to structure, and behavior becomes disinhibited, which means the person begins to be socially problematic.”
This includes walking outside when it’s freezing out in a nightgown, arguing more with others and being sexually inappropriate.
“Dementia is just a clinical word we use to describe clinically a loss of intelligence, memory problems, language disturbance, functional decline … and then personality change,” Nussbaum said. “Once you say, yes there is a dementia, then you have to say well what’s causing it?”