Alice Howland was just 50 years old when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. You may have seen her story in the movie Still Alice. Julianne Moore plays the character Alice, a linguistics professor and mother of three grown children, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The movie follows Alice and her family as her disease progresses.
What is Early-onset Alzheimer’s?
According to the Mayo Clinic, early-onset Alzheimer’s is an uncommon form of dementia that strikes people younger than age 65. Of all the people who have Alzheimer’s disease, about 5 percent develop symptoms before age 65. Since approximately 4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, around 200,000 people may have the early-onset form of the disease. Most people with early-onset Alzheimer’s develop symptoms in their 40s and 50s.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is similar to regular Alzheimer’s, except that it strikes individuals at an earlier age. Often, early-onset Alzheimer’s is not diagnosed because many health care providers don’t know that Alzheimer’s can affect a person younger than 65. Also, a younger person who is experiencing memory problems may not believe they have the disease, or they may question a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. An accurate diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s is crucial for ruling out other potential issues and getting the most appropriate treatment.
Slowing the Progression of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
Although there is no currently known cure for Alzheimer’s, there is still much you can do if you or a loved one are diagnosed at an early age. According to Dr. Gad Marshall, Associate Medical Director of Clinical Trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, healthy habits may help ward off Alzheimer’s. There are three actions anyone can take to slow its progression.
Get regular exercise. Getting regular physical exercise may help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s or slow its progression in people who have symptoms. Many physicians recommend 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise, three to four days per week.
Eat a Mediterranean diet. A recent study showed that full or even partial adherence to a Mediterranean diet can help. The Mediterranean diet includes fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, legumes and fish. You can also eat moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, and dairy, and drink moderate amounts of red wine. Red meat should be eaten only sparingly.
Get enough sleep. Growing evidence suggests that getting enough sleep is linked to greater amyloid clearance from the brain. One of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid plaques between nerve cells in the brain. Dr. Marshall recommends seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
A Care Partner for Healthy Habits
Many experts agree that only 1/3 of your lifespan is predetermined by genetics. Lifestyle factors account for 2/3 of your longevity. Diet and exercise are the two most important lifestyle factors leading to a long, healthy life.
If you are a care partner to a family member, you can also be their partner in forming new habits. Developing and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is easier when you do it together. The caregivers at Home Care Assistance are trained in the Balanced Care Method™ which helps people make healthy changes to their diet, physical activity and maintain social ties.
Multiple-Point Program for Cognitive Improvement
Physicians around the world are racing to learn more about the causes of Alzheimer’s, including early-onset, so they can develop a cure. The Alzheimer’s Association, for example, is funding scientists who are searching for more answers and new treatments. They are also raising the visibility of Alzheimer’s as a global health challenge.
An encouraging study by the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, has suggested that memory loss in patients may be reversed, and improvement sustained. The study used a complex program involving changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins, and additional steps that affect brain chemistry.
For many of us, a cure for early-onsite Alzheimer’s can’t happen quickly enough. Until it does, it’s a great idea to do what we can to prevent it by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.