Alzheimer’s disease does not only affect elderly populations. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5 percent of all cases of the disease in the United States are early-onset, also called younger-onset. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is defined as a diagnosis in someone younger than 65 years old, with individuals often presenting symptoms as early as their 30s or 40s. These individuals typically have a form of Alzheimer’s that has a genetic component, referred to as “familial Alzheimer’s disease.” New studies on how Alzheimer’s medications affect those genetically predisposed aim to find a preventative cure for all forms of the disease.
Individuals with familial Alzheimer’s disease who present symptoms relatively young often have difficulty getting diagnosed properly. Doctors and specialists are typically not trained to screen for Alzheimer’s in early adult and middle-aged patients. Symptoms can often be dismissed as general forgetfulness. However, the effects of Alzheimer’s will continue to worsen. Dr. Mary Sano, director of Alzheimer’s research at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine explains, “By the time people ask for help, something strange has probably been going on for at least six months. And often, it’s family members and close friends who can provide a point of view that a change has occurred, which can allow that person to realize something is wrong.”
The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) is a community of individuals based out of Washington University whose families carry the gene for familial Alzheimer’s disease, many of whom have experienced an early onset of symptoms. Dr. Randall Bateman, professor of neurology at the university, states, “Time is running out for these families. As they and their siblings and their children advance in age, they’re marching toward that inevitable certainty of Alzheimer’s disease and death.” With this in mind, the network recently began studies using experimental Alzheimer’s drugs and named the program DIAN Trials Unit (DIAN TU).
There are two different experimental drugs used in the study, both of which researchers hope will reduce the production of amyloid in the brain, a substance that builds up in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s. Dr. John Morris, the study’s principal investigator, explains, “Virtually 100 percent of the mutation carriers, even if they’re asymptomatic now, are going to become symptomatic.” This helps researchers, who are now teaming up with drug companies, to determine whether the drugs can prevent the disease from developing or lessen the severity of symptoms in these individuals.
While there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, ongoing research indicates that preventative medications and treatments are on the horizon. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
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Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer