Recognizing Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Here’s an important statistic to know: Of the five million Americans living with the disease, about 5% (250,000) develop early-onset Alzheimer’s before age 65—sometimes decades sooner. 

While still rare, early-onset Alzheimer’s can begin in a person’s 40s or 50s. When Alzheimer’s occurs that early, it’s easier to overlook because most people don’t suspect it. However, recognizing Alzheimer’s early can lead to getting help sooner. Here’s how to spot the early signs and what to do if you suspect that a loved one might have Alzheimer’s.

Spot the Symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease generally progresses slowly across three stages: mild, moderate and severe. 

Signs to look for in early-stage Alzheimer’s, when symptoms are still mild:

  • Memory problems that start affecting everyday life. It’s normal to forget a name or appointment from time to time. But if someone is increasingly forgetting recently learned information, it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Some examples could include forgetting important events, repeatedly asking the same questions, or being confused about the current time or place.

  • Misplacing items without being able to find them. When you lose an item in your home, such as keys or a wallet, you can usually find it by retracing your steps. But someone with Alzheimer’s might be unable to retrace his or her steps, or the person might falsely accuse somebody else of stealing the item.

  • New difficulties with words. Having trouble finding a word now and again is normal. But if someone continues to struggle with finding the right words or calling things by the wrong name, it could be something more serious.

  • Troubles with planning, solving problems, or completing familiar tasks. Does the person have difficulty keeping track of monthly bills or following a familiar recipe? Or perhaps he or she is starting to struggle with driving to familiar places or playing a favorite game.

Other signs of Alzheimer’s could include withdrawal from favorite activities, changes in personality, and deteriorating judgment. However, keep in mind that some Alzheimer’s symptoms could actually be caused by something else, such as a drug interaction or vitamin deficiency. So it’s important to see a doctor to find out what might be wrong.

Why Early Action Is Key

If you suspect memory problems in yourself or a loved one, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she may ask you or your loved one questions and perform mental tests to determine whether it is either “possible” or “probable” Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is “possible” when there may be another cause for the dementia. The diagnosis is “probable” when your doctor cannot find another cause of memory problems. The doctor might also conduct medical tests or take brain scans to rule out other causes of memory problems. 

While the progression of Alzheimer’s disease can’t be stopped, there are still many good reasons to see a doctor and get a diagnosis as early as possible. These include:

  • Addressing safety concerns
  • Finding support networks
  • Learning about appropriate living arrangements
  • Making financial and legal preparations
  • Possibly participating in a clinical trial
  • Starting medicines or treatments to slow the disease
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 23
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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