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An underrecognized form of Alzheimer’s disease affects people in their younger years

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In 2020, Mayo Clinic researchers defined a form of Alzheimer’s disease that strikes younger people as early as their 40s or 50s, involves atypical symptoms, and affects a different part of the brain not usually associated with Alzheimer’s. Their paper was published in Brain Communications in May of last year.

Termed young-onset Alzheimer’s, the disease is technically defined as an Alzheimer’s diagnosis before the age of 65. It affects about 5% to 6% of people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, unlike the typical memory problems associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s, initial symptoms of young-onset Alzheimer’s may be atypical, involving problems with language, vision, behavior or executive skills.

Health care providers often don’t look for Alzheimer’s disease in younger patients, explains Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and a co-author of the paper in Brain Communications. Instead atypical symptoms may be attributed to more-common causes of cognitive problems at midlife, like stress, menopause or depression. As a result, it can take people with young-onset Alzheimer’s longer to get a diagnosis and treatment than it takes older adults.

Medications that treat symptoms of other types of Alzheimer’s disease may be used to manage symptoms of young-onset Alzheimer’s, and researchers continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. “There is hope for people living with dementia and their families,” says Dr. Graff-Radford. “Every day, scientists understand more and more about when the disease starts, how it progresses and what treatments are on the horizon.”

This video features Jonathan Graff-Radford discussing young-onset Alzheimer’s. The video also features Cindy Leonard, a longtime Mayo Clinic nurse and nurse educator, who was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s in 2018.

This video originally appeared on Mayo Clinic News Network.

Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

Dr. Graff-Radford is a behavioral neurologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester, Minnesota.

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