The diagnostic rates for Alzheimer's at relatively young ages have been increasing in recent years. While older adults with Alzheimer's usually experience memory loss as an initial sign of the disease, at younger ages, other symptoms might also appear. Can the progression of the disease be slowed, and what else can contribute to memory issues?
Fiona Phillips, a 62-year-old British journalist, and broadcaster, recently revealed that she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She is currently undergoing trials for a new treatment that scientists hope could slow down or even reverse the progression of the disease. Phillips shared that the main symptoms she experienced before the diagnosis were cognitive decline and anxiety. According to her, this is a hereditary matter: "It's something I maybe thought I'd encounter at the age of 80. This disease has already impacted my life in so many ways; my mom, my dad, my grandparents. It just keeps coming back to us."
Alzheimer's disease is automatically associated with experiences of memory loss and confusion in older age, but the less-known aspect of the disease can also manifest in younger ages and present in various ways. According to Dr. Osman Shabir, a researcher from the University of Sheffield who referred to Phillips' story, early onset Alzheimer's is usually diagnosed in people in their 40s and 50s, but in certain rare cases, it may develop in individuals in their 20s and 30s. The youngest reported case was that of a 19-year-old in China. Some cases are linked to faulty genes, and lifestyle factors including excess weight and poor nutrition can contribute. Shearer stated that as the stigma decreases, people become more aware of the symptoms and seek earlier diagnoses. "If you get it early, there's a much better chance of standing it off for a few more years and reducing the severity and progression of the disease," he said.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's at a young age?
In the 2014 film "Still Alice", Julianne Moore portrays a linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 50. She must grapple with her personal life and close family as the disease progresses. The movie, based on a book of the same name and for which Moore won an Oscar, depicts the process of decline alongside her attempts to creatively address the tragic situation. Among other things, she addresses the audience, emphasizing that she isn't "suffering" from the disease but rather "coping" with Alzheimer's.
Early-onset Alzheimer's disease is relatively rare. Nevertheless, 5% of all Alzheimer's cases occur in individuals under 65. According to a report published in the United States in 2020, diagnosis rates from 2013 to 2017 increased by 200% in the 30 to 64 age group, with nearly all cases of Alzheimer's in individuals under 30 resulting from faulty genes.
While memory loss is usually the first sign of Alzheimer's in older adults, younger individuals might experience other symptoms such as confusion, poor spatial awareness, and difficulty making decisions. Physiologically, Alzheimer's disease at a young age leads to chemical changes similar to those in late-onset Alzheimer's. However, the brain regions affected by these chemical changes can differ.
Research has found that brain regions involved in processing movement-related information (in the frontal cortex) show significant damage in younger cases. Less damage to the hippocampus, important for learning and memory processes, was also documented compared to late-onset Alzheimer's—this is an area of the brain that's vital for learning and memory.
Younger individuals tend to experience a more atypical form of Alzheimer's disease. The various symptoms depend on the affected brain regions. Among them is the posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) that impacts visual information comprehension, resulting in difficulties reading or judging distances. In other cases, initial symptoms might manifest in speech difficulties, like struggling to find the right word or experiencing prolonged pauses during conversations.
Is it possible to slow down the development of Alzheimer's disease?
Risk factors for early-onset Alzheimer's disease are similar to those of "regular" Alzheimer's. Lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and lower cognitive ability in early adulthood have been associated with an eightfold increased risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer's. Growing evidence suggests a potential link between traumatic brain injury and early-onset Alzheimer's disease. However, the factors influencing the likelihood of developing the disease are not yet fully understood.
Genetics can't be changed, but research suggests that resilience against the disease can be strengthened through a healthier lifestyle. One study found that individuals with a genetic predisposition to early-onset Alzheimer's who exercised for more than two and a half hours per week scored better on memory tests than those who were not physically active at this level. Dietary choices may also reduce the risk of early-onset Alzheimer's. An Italian study found that individuals who consumed high levels of vegetables, dried fruits, and chocolate had a lower risk.
Does every memory problem necessarily indicate Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's disease is a chronic neurological condition primarily characterized by short-term memory loss and is mainly prevalent among the elderly population. Approximately 30% of individuals above the age of 85 are affected by the disease. Symptoms progress over time as the condition worsens and include challenges in finding the right words, disorientation, loss of social skills, and emotional changes.
Alzheimer's is considered an incurable disease. Currently, there are no treatments that halt the progression of Alzheimer's in its early stages, although there are treatments that can slow down the associated deterioration. Recently, the FDA approved a new drug aimed at slowing down cognitive decline.
However, in most cases, memory issues under the age of 65 are not related to Alzheimer's. The most common reason for memory problems at a young age is poor sleep, and other factors can be linked to the aging process, side effects of medications, depression, anxiety, alcohol, thyroid disorders, and other neurological disorders.
The connection between Pineal gland calcification, and Alzheimer's
There has been some research exploring the potential link between pineal gland calcification and Alzheimer's disease, and it is a subject of ongoing investigation. Here's a brief overview of what is known up until that point:
Pineal Gland Calcification: The pineal gland is a small endocrine gland located in the brain that produces melatonin, a hormone involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles. Over time, the pineal gland can accumulate calcifications, which are deposits of calcium that can make the gland less functional. Pineal gland calcification is a common occurrence in older individuals.
Alzheimer's Disease: Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the accumulation of abnormal protein aggregates, such as beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, in the brain. These aggregates are associated with the progressive loss of cognitive function and memory.
Potential Connection: Studies have suggested a potential association between pineal gland calcification and Alzheimer's disease. One hypothesis is that pineal gland calcification might be related to disruptions in circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, which could potentially impact brain health and contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Causality and Mechanisms: It's important to note that while there might be a correlation between pineal gland calcification and Alzheimer's disease, establishing causality and understanding the underlying mechanisms is challenging. The human brain is a complex system, and Alzheimer's disease is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
Ongoing Research: Researchers continue to investigate the potential link between pineal gland calcification and Alzheimer's disease. This involves studying larger populations, conducting longitudinal studies, and exploring potential pathways through which these factors might influence each other.
A connection between Pineal gland calcification, and Memory
Pineal Gland and Memory: The pineal gland is involved in regulating the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in sleep-wake cycles. Some studies have proposed that disruptions in melatonin production due to pineal gland calcification could potentially affect sleep patterns, and circadian rhythms, and consequently impact memory and cognitive function.
Circadian Rhythms: The pineal gland helps regulate circadian rhythms, which are the body's internal clock that influences sleep, wakefulness, and various physiological processes. Disruptions in circadian rhythms have been associated with cognitive decline and memory issues.
Sleep Quality: Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland, helps regulate sleep. Poor sleep quality and disturbances in sleep patterns have been linked to memory problems and cognitive impairment.
Researchers continue to explore these relationships through clinical studies, brain imaging techniques, and investigations into the molecular mechanisms involved.
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