Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

What It Means to Develop Alzheimer's Disease Later In Life

Not everyone develops Alzheimer's disease at the same age. Some are diagnosed in their early 60s and others aren't diagnosed until well into their 80s. How does this affect the way the disease progresses? A new study has been looking for the answer to that very question. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that the later Alzheimer's disease develops, the slower the progression of the disease will be.

You may be wondering why this information is so important. Consider the fact that Alzheimer's disease affects millions upon millions of men and women worldwide. In the next several decades, that number is expected to triple. In addition, men and women who are 85 years old or older have a 50% chance of developing this degenerative brain disease. There is no question that Alzheimer's disease is a serious issue. Information is the key to finding treatment options, and eventually, a cure.

In the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine study, researchers found that people in their 60s and 70s "showed faster rates of brain tissue loss and cognitive decline than Alzheimer's patients 80 years and older." What does that mean exactly? The older you are, the slower the Alzheimer's symptoms appear. That means that if you develop the disease much later in life, you are less likely to feel the rapid decline often associated with diagnosis.

This information affects patients in their 60s and 70s as well as those in their 80s. How does it affect the older patients? Since the disease tends to progress much slower, common symptoms do not immediately become clear. That means that doctors may not be able to make a proper diagnosis for quite some time. As a result, the care that is being given may not be beneficial to the patient. Rather than working on memory boosting activities or making changes to the diet, they may be given prescriptions to unnecessary medications instead.

When it comes to the patients in their 60s and 70s, however, this information is particularly worrying. They found that "younger elderly" patients had higher rates of memory loss and cognitive decline. It was also discovered that this group of people lost more tissue in parts of the brain that have been found most vulnerable to the disease. This means that those with an earlier diagnosis also tend to have more severe symptoms that last for longer periods of time.

Moving forward, this research may be able to help patients of all ages. It can improve the results of clinical trials for starters. For instance, choosing patients in their late 80s as well as those in their 60s and 70s may not necessarily provide the most accurate information. Researchers from this study believe age groups should be tested separately to ensure the most definitive results. This will give researchers a better understanding of the disease and how to prevent the symptoms.

Alzheimer's disease is a serious issue facing millions of people all over the world. Moving forward, researchers must focus on finding ways to delay the onset of the disease through preventative methods. A later diagnosis may make a world of difference in the way it progresses.

Dr. David Tal participation at the Age Matters Clinic allows him to share his knowledge with patients and their families.