Alzheimer’s Awareness: Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Cecile Bazaz was a wife, mother, and successful banking executive in her 40s when she began showing subtle signs that something might be wrong. At first, it was little things, like forgetting her zip code and her computer password, but soon her forgetfulness started to impact her at work. That’s when she and her family knew it was time to consult a doctor.

More Than Forgetfulness

Allan Levey, MD, and Thomas Wingo, MD, were the first to meet with Cecile and her husband, Alister, at Emory Brain Health Center.

“I remember thinking it was very worrisome that she could not perform pretty basic addition easily,” Dr. Wingo recalls.

With further examination, Drs. Levey and Wingo determined the symptoms that Cecile and her family had hoped were caused by menopause were actually the result of Early (Young) Onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“Early-onset Alzheimer’s is devastating because it affects people who are often in the prime of their lives,” says Levey. “People who are diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s still have children at home and careers that are flourishing.”

Watch how Early Onset Alzheimer’s has affected Cecile Bazaz and her family.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills. At first, its impact may be mild, but as the disease progresses, it can make it impossible to perform the most basic tasks — like speaking or getting dressed.

Typically, this disease is diagnosed in people 65 or older. Since she was only 49 at the time, Cecile’s case was diagnosed as Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease — which accounts for about 1 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases.

What Causes Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease?

Cecile did not have a family history of the disease and, surprisingly, this is not uncommon. Only about 10 percent of people diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s have a family history of it. While the exact cause of Early Onset Alzheimer’s is unknown, some evidence suggests it may be caused by defective genes passed down by the parents.

Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

Experts anticipate that 7 million American’s will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by 2025 — that’s a 35 percent increase. While researchers are still working tirelessly to uncover the mysteries of this disease, we do not yet have a cure.

Fortunately, we have learned enough about the disease to recognize that even if we don’t know how to cure it yet, there are ways to help prevent or delay it.

Emory Doctors Give Tips for Reducing Risk of Alzheimer’s

Emory Brain Health Center neurologists, Allan Levey, MD, and James Lah, MD, offer the following suggestions to help improve your brain health and lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise

“There’s an enormous overlap in the risk for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Levey explains. It appears that exercise can support a healthy heart and brain aging. Perform 30 minutes of exercise (that elevates your heart rate) at least five times a week.

Feed Your Brain

Once again, what’s good for your body can also be good for your brain. Eating heart-healthy foods like fruits, nuts, and light meats and fish can give your brain a boost.

Keep Your Brain Active

Your brain is stimulated by activities that require deep thinking, problem-solving, and learning new things. Fun hobbies like putting together a puzzle, solving a Sudoku, reading a good book, or learning a new language can actually reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Start Young

Alzheimer’s disease begins decades before symptoms appear. While it’s never too late to reap the rewards of living a healthier lifestyle, the biggest impact is likely to occur if you start young — by your 30s or 40s. In fact, Dr. Lah says, “I absolutely expect to see, during my lifetime, people who are in their 30s and 40s being screened for Alzheimer’s, so they can prevent themselves from developing the disease or delay it for an extended period of time.”

Learn more about the Emory Brain Health Center or call 404-778-7777.

About Your Fantastic Mind

Emory University and the Emory Brain Health Center have partnered with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) on a television series, Your Fantastic Mind, which features compelling stories on brain-related health and wellness.

Your Fantastic Mind will begin airing season 2 in late 2020 on GPB’s statewide television network. The news magazine-style show highlights patient stories and reports on cutting-edge science and clinical advances in neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, sleep medicine and rehabilitation medicine.

Season 1 of Your Fantastic Mind examined topics including sleep apnea, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, PTSD, Huntington’s disease, migraines and video gaming disorder, which has been designated a mental health disorder by the World Health Organization.

Jaye Watson is the show’s host, writer and executive producer. She is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning veteran Atlanta journalist and video producer for the Emory Brain Health Center.

Emory Brain Health Center

The Emory Brain Health Center uniquely integrates neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, rehabilitation medicine and sleep medicine and transforms patient-centered care for brain and spinal cord conditions through research and discovery. Bringing these specialties together allows more than 400 researchers and clinicians from different areas to collaborate to predict, prevent, treat or cure devastating diseases and disorders of the brain more rapidly. These collaborations are demonstrated in numerous centers and programs across the Brain Health Center, including the Epilepsy Center, Pituitary Center, Stroke Center, Treatment-Resistant Depression Program and Veterans Program.

Emory’s multidisciplinary approach is transforming the world’s understanding of the vast frontiers of the brain, harnessing imagination and discovery to address 21st century challenges.

Learn more about comprehensive, diagnostic and innovative treatment options at the Emory Brain Health Center.

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