Unlike early-onset which affects people as young as 30, late-onset Alzheimer’s is the most common form of this disease, generally affecting individuals after the age of 65. This form of Alzheimer’s may run in the family, however, in other cases there doesn’t appear to be a genetic component.
What Is Late-Onset Alzheimer’s?
As mentioned, late-onset Alzheimer’s is simply the most common form of this irreversible disease. Symptoms develop in one’s later years of life, with many experiencing early symptoms by their mid-60s. As a cause of death in the elderly population, Alzheimer’s is believed to now by the third leading cause of death, behind cancer and heart disease.
Being the most common cause of dementia, individuals with late-onset Alzheimer’s display symptoms of hindered cognitive functioning. This means, symptoms develop regarding memory, problem-solving, and thinking. Since this is a progressive disease, symptoms will worsen with time and the affected individual will eventually require constant care.
How Does Late-Onset Develop?
At this time, researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes Alzheimer’s. As more and more research is conducted, scientists continue to unlock various clues. It is known that individuals with Alzheimer’s develop plaques and tangles which are abnormal clumps of ‘sticky’ proteins. These cause healthy neurons to lose their ability to function and they eventually die.
Since the hippocampus is typically affected first, issues regarding one’s memory develop. As this disease progresses, additional areas within the brain are damaged, yielding numerous potential symptoms. Unlike early-onset when a genetic mutation tends to play a key role, late-onset is based on changes that occur within the brain years before symptoms surface.
At this time, it’s believed that both genetics and one’s environment may play a role. Since each case is unique and individuals vary in terms of their symptoms and the severity of the disease itself, it’s hard to say which lifestyle factors and what aspects of one’s genetics contribute to their personal onset.
In terms of genetics, the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene is associated with late-onset. This gene simply increases your risk, it does not guarantee that you will develop this disease. Also, some who do not carry the gene at all, still develop late-onset Alzheimer’s. This is why environmental and lifestyle factors are also believed to play a role.
There’s continual research which supports the connection between cardiovascular health and cognitive decline. Those who have suffered from a stroke, heart attack, have hypertension, or diabetes, are also at an increased risk. In order to reduce you risk, it’s important to follow an active lifestyle, both in terms of physical activity and social engagement. Following a nutrient-rich diet is also believed to support a healthy aging mind.
The Key Symptoms of Late-Onset Alzheimer’s
As mentioned, symptoms regarding one’s memory tend to be the first area of concern. Each case is unique, so symptoms vary from person-to-person. Some first develop symptoms such as a lack of judgment or issues regarding reasoning within the earliest stages.
Before individuals reach the more moderate and severe stages, symptoms are typically recognized when there’s mild cognitive impairment. You may notice that you or your loved one are becoming increasingly confused and can no longer perform regular daily tasks, such as following a recipe. Perhaps you were driving in a familiar area and you suddenly didn’t know where you were. Changes in personality and behavior can develop within the mild stages as well.
When Alzheimer’s develops into more moderate symptoms, reasoning, memory, and language worsen. Individuals may forget family members and can even hallucinate. Tasks such as getting dressed and adjusting to new situations can also be a challenge. Once again, this will depend on the individual themselves. Once the disease is more severe, the brain actually physically shrinks. At this point, individuals will be completely dependent on others.
Remember, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, so taking the necessary steps to reduce your risk is critical. Follow a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, healthy fats, and whole grains. Avoid excessive amounts of sugar and saturated fat (there are exceptions, such as coconut oil). Maintain an active lifestyle, walking a minimum of 30 minutes each day.
NIH. (2015). Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. National institute on Aging. Retrieved from