Early-onset Alzheimer's disease is often thought to be caused by a certain genetic mutation. However, new research found the gene mutation linked to inherited forms of the disease in people with the more common, late-onset Alzheimer's.
The study, published in PLoS One, is important because it changes how researchers currently differentiate the two types of the disease.
"We probably shouldn't think of early-onset disease as inherited and late-onset as sporadic because sporadic cases and familial clustering occur in both age groups," said senior investigator Alison M. Goate. "I think it's reasonable to assume that at least some cases among both early- and late-onset disease have the same causes. Our findings suggest the disease mechanism can be the same, regardless of the age at which Alzheimer's strikes."
She added that those who experience younger onset of the disease likely have more risk factors and fewer protective measures, though the mechanism is the same for both.
Goate encourages families who have members with Alzheimer's disease to get genetic testing in order to weed out those who may not have the cognitive disease, but rather changes in the genes related to frontotemporal dementia.