Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease: Know the Facts

Alzheimer's disease is commonly thought of as an old-person's affliction. And it's true that the vast majority of cases occur in people age 65 and older. But did you know that up to five percent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are only in their forties and fifties when it strikes?

Known as early-onset Alzheimer's, this middle-aged disease affects about 200,000 people in the U.S. alone.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are a few specific differences between early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer's.

People diagnosed with Alzheimer's in their forties and fifties:

  • May have greater microscopic damage in the brain such as twisted nerve cell fibers and plaques.
  • May decline more quickly than older Alzheimer's sufferers.
  • May experience myoclonus, which is muscle twitches and spasms, more than older people.
  • Often experience the disease because of a genetic chromosomal defect.

Although Alzheimer's disease is difficult no matter what the age of the person affected, it brings special obstacles to people who are in the prime of life.

Unlike the elderly, who are the typical Alzheimer's sufferers, middle-aged people may:

  • Still have children at home who depend on them.
  • Have thriving careers.
  • Be enjoying a newly empty nest with their spouse as children grow and go off to college.
  • Be looking ahead to retirement and planning a life of travel or volunteer work or simply relaxing.
  • Be caring for elderly parents with Alzheimer's or other health conditions.

If you're worried because you constantly misplace your keys, ask yourself if this is a new issue or you've always been absent minded. Also, minor forgetfulness is unlikely to be an indicator of Alzheimer's.

What are some red flags?

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks: While you may misplace your keys, forgetting how to use them should send up alarms.
  • Memory loss: It's normal to be unable to remember the names of people you just met at a party. Forgetting the names of your close friend of two decades is much more worrisome.
  • Confusion or poor judgment: Alzheimer's sufferers may leave the flame burning high on the stove when they're finished cooking or go outside in frigid weather wearing skimpy clothing.
  • Personality changes: Formerly outgoing people may become withdrawn, apathetic, and difficult to handle.


Cleveland Clinic. "Living With Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease."