Q: I am worried about my friend who seems to be having memory problems. Could she have dementia at only age 55?

A: It is possible for someone to have dementia, or Early onset Alzheimer’s disease, at age 55. However, any time you notice memory changes it is always important to start with a full physical exam to rule out any other medical issues that could be causing the problems you are seeing.

Often when someone experiences memory problems, especially at such a young age, they are afraid to admit a problem for fear of a dementia diagnosis. They may be in denial or trying to hide their troubles. As a friend, you can reflect back what you are seeing and gently help her recognize that she needs to reach out for an assessment.

Memory problems can be caused by a variety of other reasons, including stress, depression, medication side effects, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, and even dehydration. These are reversible issues with proper medical care. You can explain this to your friend as a reason to encourage a visit to the primary care physician to report the problems she is experiencing.

If the doctor rules out any medical issues, then she can assess for Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease with cognitive testing and possible brain scans. This is when a person gets Alzheimer’s disease who in younger than age 65. While it is less common at a younger age it is still possible.

Aside from general memory problems you may notice poor judgement in making decisions, it may take your friend longer than usual to complete regular tasks, she may repeat questions or even have mood or personality changes. You may even see an increase in her anxiety or frustrations.

Because these changes usually occur slowly it often is an outside person who will notice them first. As a friend, you have an opportunity to provide feedback and support to ensure she gets the help she needs.

If in fact your friend diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease, she will need your support in setting up a plan for their future, their safety, and their care.

There are unique challenges to this diagnosis at a young age The person may still be working and need to plan for retirement earlier than expected. This may change the retirement benefits planned on or the health insurance coverage.

Your friend will need to ensure they have legal documents in place for future healthcare and financial decisions. Meeting with an elder law attorney is recommended to ensure the correct documents are in place.

Your friend will also want to plan how she wishes to live their life with this diagnosis, and what is most important to her in the years to come. This includes talking about when future care is needed, and how and where they want that care. These will be difficult conversations but very important for the whole family to be involved in.

If anyone is worried about memory loss, or is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, they can find information and resources at the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org. Locally they can reach out to one of Ventura County’s Family Caregiver Resource Centers and can learn more at https://www.vcaaa.org/our-services/caregiver-services/.

Anyone experiencing memory loss will need support and care. You have the chance to be the gentle guide to make sure your friend gets assessed and manages whatever comes next. Ensuring she knows she is not alone in this journey is the best gift you can give.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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