This week, TV presenter Fiona Phillips revealed that she’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s aged just 61.
The former GMTV host confirmed the ‘heartbreaking’ news to The Mirror, saying she’d kept the disease to herself for the past 18 months and admitting it was a ‘horrible secret’ to divulge.
However, the mum-of-two now hopes that talking about her experience and those of her family (who she says were ‘ravaged’ by dementia) will challenge stigma and raise awareness about early-onset Alzheimer’s.
‘All over the country there are people of all different ages whose lives are being affected by it,’ she said. ‘It’s something I might have thought I’d get at 80. But I was still only 61 years old.’
Alzheimer’s disease is typically more common in people over the age of 65, with the prevalence more than doubling between 65 and 80. Yet around 1 in every 20 people diagnosed with the brain disorder are younger than this, and factors like family history also play a role.
As a progressive condition and one that affects each person differently, it can behard to spot symptoms at first. But according to Alzheimer’s Society – which Fiona is an ambassador for – there are numerous benefits to early diagnosis.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or the other diseases which cause dementia, finding out the cause when you first notice changes ensures that you have access to relevant support, protections and benefits, and can plan for the future.
Medicine that can help manage symptoms may also be available, and you could be put forward for clinical trials that help pave the way for revolutionary future treatments.
An Alzheimer’s Society survey found that three out of five people with dementia wish they’d sought a diagnosis sooner, and regardless of the results of your assessment, it’s the first step towards getting the care you need.
The below symptoms are potential warning signs of Alzheimer’s, but issues like medication side effects, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies and a whole host of other conditions could be to blame.
It’s important not to worry too much about what might be going on or to dismiss concerns and bury your head in the sand. Simply visiting your GP if you have any concerns is the best way to take control.
Early Alzheimer’s symptoms
Losing or forgetting things
Memory problems are one of the first noticeable signs of Alzheimer’s, as the first part of the brain to be damaged by the disease is the hippocampus, which has an important role in forming and storing new memories.
For this reason, you may still be able to remember things that happened a long time ago in the early stages. Signs to watch out for include:
- Forgetting recent conversations or events
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Forgetting important dates or appointments
- Increased levels of disorganisation
Thinking and reasoning problems
You may initially struggle to concentrate and have to consciously focus more than normal to take things in.
Issues like confusion over the time of day, order of tasks like cooking a meal, where you are, or when different things happened in your life may also be signals of early Alzheimer’s.
Many people with Alzheimer’s find it difficult to communicate or find the right words, which can manifest as using general words like ‘thing’ rather than naming specific items.
You may also struggle to recall names you previously knew or pause regularly during speech to think.
Like Fiona Phillips, who struggled with low mood before her diagnosis, someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may experience emotional changes.
You may become more easily angered or frightened, or experience sadness and despondency over things that you previously enjoyed.
As mentioned, these symptoms may be a result of conditions such as depression or even an infection, so it’s important to consult your GP to work out what’s going on.
Worried about Alzheimer’s?
Visit the Alzheimer’s Society website for more information about the condition, or call the charity’s dementia support line on 0333 150 3456.
This is open between 9am and 8pm Monday to Wednesday, 9am to 5pm Thursday and Friday, and 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday, and provides trained guidance for those affected by dementia, worried about a diagnosis or a carer.
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