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The Jennings vs Alzheimer’s: Meet the family diagnosed with early-onset dementia

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THE Jennings vs Alzheimer’s tells the story of a family who are helping scientists explore how dementia can be hereditary.

The documentary follows their quest to try and find a cure for the debilitating disease. Here’s what you need to know.

The documentary tells the story of one family's experience with dementia

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The documentary tells the story of one family’s experience with dementiaCredit: BBC

Who are the Jennings family?

The Jennings family feature in the BBC documentary, which focuses on how dementia can run in families.

Carol Jennings

Carol Jennings passed away in early 2024

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Carol Jennings passed away in early 2024Credit: X/@alzheimerssoc

Carol Jennings wrote to scientists in the 1980s, raising concerns that she thought Alzheimer’s may run in her family.

Noting that multiple relatives had been diagnosed with the disease, she told scientists that she thought there may be a hereditary connection.

Carol first began to show symptoms of dementia when she was 50 and has since passed away.

She decided to donate her brain for further research into the disease.

John Jennings

John Jennings is Carol’s son and on the documentary he is shown trying to decide whether or not he should be tested for the gene that could indicate if he is likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Following in his mother’s footsteps, John is now involved in research at the Dementia Centre.

Emily Jennings

Emily Jennings is Carol’s daughter and second child.

On the show, she talks about her decision not to take the test to see if she’s at greater risk of Alzheimer’s.

What condition do the Jennings’ family have?

After Carol’s diagnosis, scientists discovered she carried a gene which meant that she had a 50/50 chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

In 1986 Prof Sir John Hardy began to investigate the idea that Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia could have a genetic cause.

He put out a call in the Alzheimer’s Society’s newsletter asking for people to contact him if two or more members of their family had the disease.

Carol’s father had been diagnosed in 1982, his sister the year after that and his brother the year after that.

She enclosed a hand drawn family tree.

Carol and her family underwent tests every year for five years.

The results helped Prof Hardy identify a mutation in the amyloid precursor protein that is responsible for the build up of plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

That discovery also revealed a devastating truth for the family: the hereditary gene is being passed through each generation.

BBC

How to watch The Jennings vs Alzheimer’s

You can tune in to watch The Jennings vs Alzheimer’s on BBC2.

The documentary airs on Monday May 13, 2024 at 9pm.

You can also stream the programme on BBC iPlayer.

The synopsis of the show reads: “When a mutant gene causing Alzheimer’s is discovered in the Jennings family, it leads scientists on a journey to develop a cure and leaves family members with a terrible dilemma.

“The Jennings are the first family in the world to be diagnosed with hereditary, early-onset Alzheimer’s, a discovery which many think will be the key to finally unlocking a cure.

“But that discovery also revealed a devastating truth for the family: the hereditary gene is being passed through each generation.”

What is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease most commonly affects older adults but can also affect people in their 30s or 40s.

John and Emily decide whether they want to be tested

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John and Emily decide whether they want to be testedCredit: BBC

When Alzheimer disease occurs in someone younger than age 65 it’s known as early-onset (or younger-onset) Alzheimer disease.

A very small number of people with Alzheimer disease have the early-onset form.

Dementia symptoms

Here are the symptoms of dementia:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes
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