Coach Summitt’s Diagnosis Puts Spotlight on Early-Onset Alzheimer’s
Staywell Custom Communications
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most dreaded afflictions of old age, but the announcement by celebrated women’s basketball coach Pat Summit of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis at age 59 has put a spotlight on the less common, but perhaps even more devastating, form of the disease.
About 500,000 people in the United States, or about 5 percent of those with Alzheimer’s, have early-onset Alzheimer’s, also called “young-onset” because it’s diagnosed before age 65, said Dr. Zoe Arvanitakis, a neurologist in the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Though rarer still, diagnoses among people in their 30s and 40s aren’t unheard of, she noted.
“In contrast to what many people think, Alzheimer’s disease does not only affect older persons. It can also affect persons in their middle adult ages,” Arvanitakis said.
Symptoms for early-onset Alzheimer’s are the same as for late-onset disease, experts said. Summit, coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, told the Washington Post this week that she suspected her forgetfulness was a side effect of a rheumatoid arthritis drug, until Mayo Clinic doctors told her she was showing mild signs of the dementia.
Typically, early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses more quickly than late-onset Alzheimer’s, experts said.
Still, the time from which a person first has symptoms to the time they’ve lost so much of their mental abilities that they’re truly disabled varies widely from person to person, said Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
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