When you read or think of the term Alzheimer’s, your mind immediately goes to old age and elderly people. Not many know that there is also a condition named Childhood Alzheimer’s, which also involves the memory of the children. In this article, we will learn more about what is Childhood Alzheimer’s.
What is Childhood Alzheimer’s? Is It the Same as Adult Alzheimer’s?(1)
Childhood Alzheimer’s is actually a term used for a couple of conditions that affect a child’s communication ability and memory and is not actually a clinical diagnosis per se.
Childhood Alzheimer’s is a word used to refer to in children who are suffering from two different diseases, which cause memory loss in kids along with other symptoms that are found in Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms of Childhood Alzheimer’s resemble Alzheimer’s disease; however, the cause of both the conditions is different.
Some of the diseases that are referred to as Childhood Alzheimer’s include: Sanfilippo syndrome or mucopolysaccharidosis type III (MPS III) And Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC).(2)
These two diseases are also known as lysosomal storage disorders and when a kid suffers from any of these genetic conditions then there is dysfunction in the lysosomes of their cells.(3)
The function of the lysosomes is processing cholesterol and sugar to be used by the body. In case of dysfunction of lysosomes, there is accumulation of these nutrients within the cells. This results in malfunctioning of the cells and eventual death of the cells that further leads to problems with memory and various brain functions in the patient.
Childhood Alzheimer’s is different from the regular Alzheimer’s disease in the sense when an adult is suffering from Alzheimer’s, then there is excessive beta-amyloid, which is a protein in their brain. This protein clusters together between the cells. As the time goes, this causes disruption with the brain connections and results in memory problems.
What are the Causes & Pathophysiology of Childhood Alzheimer’s?
Genetics is the cause of both the forms of childhood Alzheimer’s. These are recessive diseases, which mean that a child will inherit this condition if both the parents are carrier of the gene. For parents who carry the genes responsible for childhood Alzheimer’s; their children will have a 1 in 4 chance of having this condition.(4)
Children inherit the defected genes from their parents where it is not able to produce the right protein cells that are required for normal body functioning. The lysosomes of the cells do not function properly and this leads to accumulation of products and hindering of the production of the things that the body requires for proper functioning.
Gradually there is accumulation of cholesterol, fats and sugars within the cells of the child leading to deterioration of the brain and other organ functions.
What are the Symptoms of Childhood Alzheimer’s?(5, 6)
The initial symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s are linked with brain. Children suffering from childhood Alzheimer’s have difficulty with communication and memory. Other symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s consist of difficulty in understanding new information and loss of motor skills.
Symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s also depend on the child and if the child is suffering from or MPS III or NPC. Other common symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s are: complete loss of ability to speak; slurred speech; swelling in the stomach; breathlessness; jaundice; difficulty in eye contact; difficulty swallowing; difficulty following objects/lights with eyes; rapid blinking; seizures; loss of motor skills, balance, muscle tone and control.
Symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s in children suffering from MPS III consist of: hyperactivity; insomnia; coarse hair; behavior problems; large foreheads and digestive problems.
How Soon Do The Symptoms of Childhood Alzheimer’s Appear?
The symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s can develop when the child is few months of age to early adulthood in both its types. Most often the symptoms develop when the child is between the ages of 4 and 10. As MPS III and NPC are degenerative conditions, the symptoms worsen with time.
What is the Difference Between Childhood Alzheimer’s & Childhood Dementia?
Childhood dementia and Childhood Alzheimer’s may seem alike to many, but both are completely different conditions in adults as well as children.
Childhood dementia is a disease resulting from a group of conditions known as neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis.(7) When a child suffers from NCL, then there is accumulation of lipids and proteins, in the body which causes problems. NCL is fatal like childhood Alzheimer’s and children suffering from these conditions usually die when they are between the ages of 10 and 15.
Is it Difficult to Diagnose Childhood Alzheimer’s?
These diseases are very rare and can be wrongly diagnosed; so it can take a number of years for the child to be diagnosed with any of the medical disorders that are referred to as childhood Alzheimer’s.
Parents should take their child to wellness checkups regularly to monitor their developmental progress; and any type of delay can immediately be identified and dealt with as soon as possible.
As the initial symptoms of childhood Alzheimer’s consist of difficulty with motor and learning skills, children can easily be misdiagnosed with autism, learning disabilities or such developmental disorders.
However, the difference is children suffering from MPS III or NPC continue to develop additional symptoms and their symptoms and health worsens overtime. Then there comes a point where their symptoms cannot be explained by their initial diagnosis and this will lead to finding the new and correct diagnosis, which is childhood Alzheimer’s.
Genetic testing is needed for children suffering from childhood Alzheimer’s and its causative conditions to confirm the diagnosis. A visit to the specialists is also needed for getting further clarification about the child’s condition.
These days Children MPS III or NPC can be diagnosed with a standard blood test; whereas, previously the child had to have a biopsy for confirmation of the condition.
What is the Treatment of Childhood Alzheimer’s?(6)
As of now, there is no cure or a definitive treatment for either form of childhood Alzheimer’s. The treatment plan is developed by the concerned doctor depending on symptoms and to make the quality of life of the patient as good as possible.
The plan of care or treatment can be as simple as blending or pureeing the food if the child is having difficulty in swallowing as a result of childhood Alzheimer’s.
Speech therapists help the child in teaching how to safely swallow liquids and foods. Occupational and physical therapists help with the child’s motor skills, balance and muscle weakness.
Are Clinical Trials for Childhood Alzheimer’s Worth It?
Some of the families elect to go with experimental treatments and clinical trials. Research is ongoing to see if any enzyme/gene therapies can help with the treatment of childhood Alzheimer’s in the future. However, the decision of going with clinical trials completely depends on the families.
However, these treatments are yet to be approved by the FDA. However, many families choose to take the risk and consider it worthwhile, as there is always a possibility of these experimental treatments working or making a difference in their child’s life.
What’s the Prognosis & Life Expectancy for Childhood Alzheimer’s?
The prognosis of childhood Alzheimer’s is poor and always fatal. Majority of the children suffering from either form of childhood Alzheimer’s will die before they have reached the age of 20. In very rare cases, the patient can live into their 30s.
Children suffering from NPC usually die before they are 10 years old.
Generally children suffering from MPS III tend to have a slightly longer life expectancy with the average lifespan being the ages of 15 to 20 years.
Children who develop symptoms in their later part of childhood usually will have a slower progressing type of childhood Alzheimer’s. Their symptoms will deteriorate slower when compared to children developing symptoms as infants and toddlers.
The sad fact is, it doesn’t matter when the symptoms appear, childhood Alzheimer’s has no cure.
Childhood Alzheimer’s is a rare and fatal disease with no cure. It is always difficult and overwhelming for the parent when their children are suffering from any disease; especially when it is a fatal and rare disease like childhood Alzheimer’s. Parents should seek counseling and help from different organizations instead of facing this condition alone.
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- How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?