A team of Chinese researchers claimed to have discovered the world’s youngest Alzheimer’s disease patient.
Scientists from Xuanwu hospital, which is affiliated with Capital Medical University, published their findings in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease on Jan. 31.
According to the study, the 19-year-old patient from Beijing was diagnosed with “probable” Alzheimer’s disease after experiencing difficulties concentrating and memory loss at 17 years old.
The patient started suffering from short-term memory loss a year later, unable to recall where he placed his belongings as well as the events of the previous day. He also experienced delayed reactions and reading difficulties.
While the patient had cognitively normal cerebrospinal fluid, he exhibited mild brain atrophy, which met the diagnostic criteria for the condition.
The authors, led by Jia Jianping from the hospital’s Innovation Center for Neurological Disorders, said the patient had no family history of the disease or any other known causes of memory impairment, making the case extremely rare.
In a statement, the researchers highlighted how their findings challenge the commonly held belief that Alzheimer’s disease is exclusive to the elderly.
“[The study] proposed to pay attention to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease,” they explained. “Exploring the mysteries of young people with Alzheimer’s disease may become one of the most challenging scientific questions of the future.”
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which affects people younger than 65, is considered uncommon as it accounts for only 5-10% of all known cases.
The authors point out that nearly all patients younger than 30 possess pathological gene mutations. The previous youngest Alzheimer’s disease patient was a 21-year-old who similarly carried such a gene mutation.
The teen patient from China is a unique case as the scientists did not find any known genetic mutation in him.
“This is the youngest case ever reported to meet the diagnostic criteria for probable [Alzheimer’s disease] without recognized genetic mutations,” the authors said.
In a separate study, Jia and his team suggested that a change in lifestyle can potentially counteract the deleterious effect of apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 allele (APOE ε4), the strongest known genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers found that a healthy diet, cognitive activity, regular physical exercise, abstaining from alcohol and not smoking can fight memory decline despite the presence of APOE ε4.
“Healthy diet had the strongest protective effect on memory, followed by a cognitive activity, and physical exercise,” the researchers noted in their study published in the British Medical Journal.