Alzheimer’s at 36? The Impact of Early-onset Alzheimer’s

At BrainTest, we often touch on the latest research and scientific discoveries in order to help guide you towards proactive, healthy decisions.

With that being said, it’s important that we do not lose touch of the more human side associated with this degenerative disease — which is what I’d like to touch on today.

We often report the statistics, but when it all boils down, these are peoples lives that we’re discussing. Whether a mom, a grandfather, or even a son is experiencing the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, it’s a frightening and taxing experience for everyone involved.

Alzheimer’s at 36?

Originally reported by Good Housekeeping, a young family went through something unimaginable.

A devoted teacher, husband, and father, Jason began to display odd symptoms in his 30s. It’s a heartbreaking story, one in which everyone should read.

I think one of the most impactful aspects of this personal story, is the opening paragraph. As the wife explains, “If she would’ve known that she’d lose pieces of her husband each day, she would have loved him more, treasured those moments… but she just didn’t know.”

Reflecting on their past, like many couples, they experienced a magical beginning. Romance and beautiful memories, all locked within photographs taken years prior. After getting married and having two healthy twins, everything seemed like a dream. They would eventually go on to have four healthy children.

In 2009, Jason started to act different. For eight years, he had worked as a teacher and adored his job — but just like that, he wanted to quit. Wanting to support his decision, his wife helped him focus on new goals and career objectives.

After trying his hand at a few different jobs, Jason wanted to join their town’s police department, and that’s when his challenges became more and more apparent. For years, he was a coach, a loved teacher, an attentive dad and husband, but then the unthinkable happened.

Jason couldn’t seem to keep his schedule straight, forgetting when and where he was expected. He had already quit the police department at this point, and in 2012, when Jason couldn’t manage to put the Christmas lights up, he yelled out in frustration. He couldn’t seem to understand what was happening to him.

With turmoil in their marriage, the couple saw a counselor. After Jason’s wife told the therapist what had been happening in private, he recommended that they go see a neuropsychologist. From there, they visited a neurologist, who administered more than a dozen tests.

After examining his records, just like that, Jason’s wife was informed — based on the brain images, her husband’s symptoms were consistent with Alzheimer’s. It wouldn’t take long for his condition to deteriorate, needing more and more attention.

Slowly but surely, Jason lost the ability to care for himself. Bathing and tending to Jason was challenging, but the day that Jason couldn’t remember his wife’s name or the names of his children, certainly stood out for this young family.

As he became sicker, the toll was too much on his children. That was when Jason went into a long-term care facility, where the children would visit him once or twice a week. As his wife explained, she could still make him laugh — and when she’d give him a look or a nudge, he’d smile.

Where to Go From Here?

Just reading this young family’s story brings tears to your eyes. Whether you’re currently experiencing the effects of younger-onset Alzheimer’s or simply want to learn more about this disease, it’s important to read these personal stories.

Each and every family is unique, but at the root of it all, we all experience the same hardships and emotions — the type of feelings that are associated with a loss.

You may be thinking, how can someone so young be affected — am I at risk?

In this case, Jason was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, a disease that impacts those in their 50s, 40s, and even individuals in their 30s. This is why it’s important to understand who is typically affected, and what they experience.

Since this condition is diagnosed at a young age, many believe that they are first experiencing the side effects of stress. Although one’s decline is generally slow, this varies on a case-by-case basis.

Some of the key symptoms to look out for include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty planning ahead or remaining organized
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Lack of concentration
  • Losing track of time and dates
  • Reduced communication skills
  • Poor decision making skills
  • Mood or personality changes — especially in relation to sadness, confusion, and even anger
  • Withdrawing from work and social commitments

Although researchers aren’t certain what causes this form of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s believed that younger-onset develops based on multiple factors. When genetics plays a role, this is what’s referred to as familial Alzheimer’s disease — caused by rare genetic defects.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease At All Ages

Regardless of your age, it’s important to practice optimal brain health. At this point in time, your best bet is to live a brain-healthy lifestyle, in order to reduce your risk of degenerative conditions. There is plenty of research available on lifestyle factors, which is why I want to address six key areas:

  • Regular exercise — Aim for a minimum of 200 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly. Combine cardio and strength training in order to potentially reduce your risk by up to 50 percent. As a beginner, walking and swimming are great places to start.
  • Social engagement — Whether you participate in workshops, yoga classes, or volunteer, remaining social and active within your community is critical. We are social beings, thriving within engaging environments.
  • A balanced, nutrient-dense diet — We all know what a clean diet entails, so cut out low-nutrient, processed foods, exchanging them for fresh, whole foods. Cut back on sugar and increase your intake of essential fatty acids, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of water.
  • Regular mental stimulation — Regardless of your age, never stop learning, your level of cognitive functioning may depend on it!
  • Quality sleep patterns — Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, so be sure to establish a regular sleep routine.
  • Effective stress managements — Stress is the silent killer, impacting both your heart and brain health. Learn to better manage stress levels, and make fun a priority!

Do you know a family that is experiencing a similar situation? How are they coping? Do you have any tips to provide those in need? Let’s continue to build a community that helps one another.

Comment below!

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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