What is younger onset dementia?
Younger onset dementia is used to describe any form of dementia that develops in people under the age of 65. Dementia has been diagnosed in people in their 50s, 40s and even in their 30s. It is sometimes called early onset dementia.
Younger onset dementia is similar to other types of dementia in many ways. The same problems generally occur, but the disease can have a different impact on a younger person because they are more likely to be employed full time, raising a family or financially responsible for a family.
What are the symptoms of younger onset dementia?
The symptoms of dementia are similar no matter what age they start. They include:
- memory loss that interferes with daily life
- difficulty performing familiar tasks
- repetitive behaviour
- withdrawing from friends and family
- losing the ability to think clearly or make judgements
- language problems
- changes to behaviour
Many conditions can produce symptoms that are similar to dementia, such as vitamin and hormone deficiencies, depression, medication, infections and brain tumours.
What causes younger onset dementia?
Many different types of dementia can affect younger people. Each type has its own symptoms and is caused by a specific type of change in the brain. Some causes of early onset dementia are:
- Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause of dementia in younger people)
- problems with blood flow to the brain (called vascular dementia)
- deterioration to the front part of the brain (called frontotemporal dementia)
- illnesses such as Lewy body, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis or HIV infection
- chronic overuse of alcohol over many years
When should I see my doctor?
Anybody who suspects they have younger onset dementia should see their doctor. An early diagnosis is important because it allows for early planning and early access to support, information and possibly medication.
How is younger onset dementia diagnosed?
Younger onset dementia can be difficult to diagnose, mainly because the person affected seems too young. Diagnosis may involve:
- a detailed medical history
- a thorough physical and neurological examination
- pathology tests
- brain imaging
- a psychiatric assessment
- a neuropsychological assessment (this tests cognitive function, such as memory, reasoning and comprehension)