Alzheimer's Is Claiming Younger Victims

Patty Smith has snapshots of the most important moments in her life, but in her mind, they've started to fade, CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports.

"We got married in 2001," she says, but calls her husband over when asked where they married.

Patty has early onset Alzheimer's, a terrifying disease that steals the memories and personalities of people in their prime. She was just 51 years old when she was diagnosed.

"I worry about Jay and how that's going to affect him," she says. "I worry about my two children. The idea of them seeing me and me not knowing them is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying."

As many as 600,000 people under the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to grow.

"Baby boomers are a walking time bomb, and we're starting to see a reflection of that in these early onset cases," says Stephen McConnell of the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer's advocates say it could emerge as one of the country's greatest health crises. They're lobbying Congress for help.

"If you develop Alzheimer's after 65, there are programs out there for you. There's Medicare, there's Social Security, there's the Older Americans Act. If you're under 65, or under 60, you are out of luck," McConnell says.

Most young people are misdiagnosed, sometimes for years. When Patty's work as a banker started to slip, doctors chalked it up to depression.

Today, her husband fills in some details for her — she keeps up with the rest — in a notebook. She still drives.

While her independence is encouraging, the reality of the disease is heartbreaking. She doesn't always remember the ages of her children, for example.

A mother's memories are replaced by a family's worry.

"As I look down the road and the reality of it," says Jay, "it's terrifying because I don't want to lose her."

Patty is taking medication that helps treat some of her symptoms, reports Alfonsi, but there is no cure for Alzheimer's. This year, the federal government will spend about $120 billion to support those suffering from the disease. But for every dollar spent dealing with the impact, less than a penny is devoted to finding a cure. Alzheimer's advocates are pushing for that to change.



For additional information about early onset Alzheimer's you can refer to resources from the Alzheimer's Association.

A report on early onset Alzheimer's disease can be found here. And you can click here for information from the Alzheimer's Association's carefinder.

Click here for some warning signs of Alzheimer's disease from the Alzheimer's Association.
  • Melissa McNamara

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