Support for young Alzheimer's patients

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 24, 2008 2:58:16 PM PDT
There is a local place where younger Alzheimer's patients are finding care and support. It's believed to be the only facility of its kind.About 10 percent of Alzheimer's patients are in only in the 30s, 40s or 50s. Patients 60 or older have programs paid for by local, state and the federal governments.

And while you don't have to be Jewish to go to the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center, you do have to be special. We met a group of younger ball players who have young onset Alzheimer's disease. There are no government programs to support these younger patients, so the JCC board started "Let's Do Lunch" program. It is supported with private donations that brings these younger patients together four days a week for group activities, like basketball and golf.

Catherine Allen attends. She has trouble communicating, typical of young patients with the illness.

"There are so many things I can do, but I need help," she said. "And that's why this makes me so happy."

One thing Allen can do is take a dance class. And after, she takes a painting class with the help of an art therapist.

Unlike older patients with Alzheimer's, younger patients typically don't have memory problems. They often have trouble recognizing objects and knowing what to do with them.

"It's looking at their watch," the center's Connie Wasserman said. "It's not having difficulty reading the watch. It's not knowing at all what the watch is for."

The program is not simply for the patients, but for their young spouses and children.

"It helps the family, my family, that I get out of the house," Allen said.

Therapist Laura Nappi's mother was in the program in its first year. At home, Laura's father had to go to work, leaving her mother alone. But at JCC?

"We didn't feel worried or guilty," she said. "She was engaging and doing activities and having fun.

They are having fun, one day at a time. That's the best to offer these patients, whose disease is always fatal. Young Alzheimer's is often misdiagnosed as menopause or depression, as even doctors are unaware of how young some sufferers are.

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Connie Wasserman can be reached at 516-484-1545, ext. 135 or at

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