Feeling a bit forgetful? Here’s why it may or may not be due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, typically affects adults over age 65. But it can also affect people under that age as well. In fact, even people in their 30’s and 40’s can get the disease. But this condition is rare in younger people—only about 5-6% of people with Alzheimer’s disease develop it before age 65.

This debilitating disease affects memory, thinking and behavior. As it progresses, it can drastically affect a person’s ability to perform daily activities. Although experts still haven’t figured out exactly why some people get the disease and how it is triggered, it is known that people with Alzheimer’s disease develop more types of protein called plaques and tangles that damage and kill nerve cells in the brain.

The symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are the same as when it occurs in older people. These include:

  • Forgetting things, especially newly learned information
  • Misplacing things and not knowing how to find them
  • Having difficulty with basic tasks, such as following a recipe or remembering to pay bills
  • Not knowing where you are, how you got there or what day/time it is
  • Having trouble finding the right words to communicate with others
  • Finding it hard to make decisions or having poor judgment
  • Exhibiting changes in personality and mood

Often a person who has these symptoms is not aware of them, although they may be aware of some changes that occur at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s. More likely, these changes in memory, thinking and behavior are recognized by a loved one. No matter who notices the symptoms, it is best to bring it to the attention of a healthcare provider who can help diagnose the condition.

It’s important to note that many people forget things, especially as they age or when they are busy. Occasionally misplacing your car keys or forgetting you had an appointment should not be a cause for panic and is not an indication that you have Alzheimer’s disease. The condition affects memory, thinking and behavior in ways that go beyond just the average forgetfulness many of us experience on occasion.

But if you are concerned that you may have Alzheimer’s disease, no matter what your age, it is a good idea to discuss your concerns with your doctor. He or she can perform some cognitive tests in the office that evaluate your memory, problem solving and other mental skills. Depending on the results of these tests, you may be referred for additional testing.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there are treatments that may help slow progression of the disease and preserve mental function. Diagnosing the condition early also helps people prepare for what may lie ahead, when cognitive function declines further.


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Date Last Reviewed: September 2, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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