Alzheimer’s disease is a tragic condition that impacts millions of individuals globally, primarily those over 65 years old. But what if you received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis at 19? That’s what happened to a Chinese young man, making him the youngest reported Alzheimer’s patient in the world.
The man, whose name has not been disclosed, had memory problems since he was 17 years old. He would forget simple things like his phone number, his school schedule, and even his own name. He also had difficulty speaking and writing, and became easily confused and disoriented. His family took him to several doctors, but none of them could find the cause of his symptoms.
Finally, he was referred to a neurologist from Xuanwu Hospital of Capital Medical University in Beijing, who performed a series of tests, including brain scans and genetic analysis. The results were shocking: the man had Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behaviour.
“This is the youngest case ever reported to meet the diagnostic criteria for probable (Alzheimer’s disease) without recognized genetic mutations,” said Dr. Jia Jianping, the neurologist who diagnosed him, in a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is usually associated with aging, but there are rare cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that affect people younger than 65. These cases account for up to 10 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases, and are often linked to genetic mutations that run in families. However, the young man from China had no family history of dementia or any known genetic mutations that could explain his condition.
“This case brings attention to the heterogeneous nature of dementia that can involve people at any age,” said Dr. George Perry, a neuroscientist and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. “Significantly, this finding may separate Alzheimer’s disease from the complexity of aging and open the field to new concepts to promote innovation.”
The young man’s case is a mystery that challenges the current understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and its causes. Dr. Jia and his team are continuing to study him and other young patients with dementia to find clues that could lead to new treatments and prevention strategies.
“Exploring the mysteries of young people with Alzheimer’s disease may become one of the most challenging scientific questions of the future,” Dr. Jia said.