David Cassidy’s disclosure at the age of 66 that he has dementia may seem surprising, but it’s actually not unusual to develop the disease so young, a top expert says.
“By the time a person is 65, they have a 10 percent risk of developing dementia, but people do find it disconcerting because it tends to be perceived as an older person's disease,” Dr. Gary Small tells Newsmax Health.
That risk approaches 50 percent by the time a person reaches the age of 85, says Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
Cassidy, a teen heartthrob from his days starring in the TV series, “The Partridge Family,” revealed his dementia diagnosis Monday.
He made the disclosure after a concert in Agoura Hills, Calif., over the weekend where he struggled to recall the lyrics to songs he’d been singing for 50 years.
This prompted a gossip website to speculate on whether Cassidy, who has struggled with alcohol abuse, had fallen off the wagon.
But Cassidy had written on his website earlier this month that performing live had become “much more difficult” for him.
The singer watched his grandfather battle the disease and told People magazine he witnessed his mother "disappear" into dementia until her death at 89.
“I was in denial but part of me always knew this was coming,” Cassidy says in the interview.
Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms, such as loss of memory, judgment, language, complex motor skills, and other intellectual functions caused by the permanent damage or death of the brain's nerve cells, the Alzheimer’s Association of America says.
The most common reason for the memory loss disorder is Alzheimer’s disease, notes Small.
“The first case of Alzheimer’s disease described by Dr. Alois Alzheimer was of a patient who was 51 years old that had become confused and died four years later,” says Small.
“He did the autopsy and described the plaques and tangles on the brain. He termed the case a rare pre-senile dementia. It wasn’t until years later, when a series of cases was published on older people with 'senility,' was published, and the same plaques and tangles were found that the disease was termed 'late onset Alzheimer's,'" adds Small, author of The Mind Health Report newsletter.
Although there is no known cause for Alzheimer’s disease, it is characterized by abnormal clusters and twists of protein fragments, called plaques, that build up between nerve cells.
Dementia, whether or not caused by Alzheimer’s disease, can be referred to as either “early onset,” or “late onset.”
“Early onset” disease typically occurs in people in their 40s or 50s, but can sometime strikes individuals in their 30s.
“Late onset,” refers to the vast majority of cases, which are in older individuals, the Alzheimer’s association notes.
The distinction is important because “early-onset” Alzheimer’s disease has a genetic component, notes Small.
If your mother or father has one of these genetic mutations, you have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. And if you do have the mutation, you have a very strong probability of developing early-onset Alzheimer's disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.
One of the tipoffs to the genetically inherited form of the disease is that relatives usually develop it around the same age, says Small.
“Since David Cassidy developed it at the age of 66, and his mother was in her eighties, it’s unlikely that this is that type of Alzheimer’s,” says Small.
“Still, there are things that people who are concerned about Alzheimer’s can do to help prevent, or delay, its onset,” says Small, author of “2 Weeks to a Younger Brain: An Innovative Program for a Better Memory and a Sharper Mind.”
Here are Small’s tips:
- Cardiovascular exercise pushes the heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. He recommends getting at least 15 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises — such as brisk walking — every day. He also advises strength training several times a week.
- Eat healthy. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids in fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods protect the brain and keep it in tip-top shape. On the other hand, processed and sugary foods can have the opposite effect.
- Practice mental stimulation. Word puzzles, games that stretch the mind, memory-building exercises, and other brain-training techniques can help work the brain in ways that mirror physical exercise.
- Lose weight. People who are overweight have quadruple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
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