Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease

People who develop Alzheimer’s disease before age 65 are said to have “early-onset” or “young-onset” disease. Overall, about 5-6% of Alzheimer’s patients have early-onset disease.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that causes dementia. Most people who develop Alzheimer’s are diagnosed late in life; however, a minority of patients are diagnosed earlier, usually between the ages of 30 and 60.

In the U.S., there are about 4 million people with Alzheimer’s, so about 200,000 to 240,000 of them are thought to have young onset disease, according to some statistics.

The symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s are broadly similar to those in people who develop the disease later in life. Therefore, the strategies for diagnosing, treating, and managing the condition also are similar.

Because those with young-onset disease often are at a different stage of life than older patients, people with early onset Alzheimer’s commonly face different day-to-day obstacles, including increased challenges due to work problems, family dynamics, and other concerns.

Genetics of early-onset Alzheimer’s

In most cases of early-onset disease — as with most cases of Alzheimer’s in general — the underlying cause of disease is not known.

The only known risk factor for early-onset Alzheimer’s is a family history of the disease, presumably due to the effect of inherited genetic mutations.

To date, mutations in three specific genes — APPPSEN1 and PSEN2 — have been linked with early-onset Alzheimer’s that runs in families. Mutations in these three genes are found in fewer than 1% of all people with Alzheimer’s but in about 11% of those with early-onset disease.

 

Last updated: Nov. 17, 2021

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