What is young onset dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that occur when certain diseases or conditions affect the brain, resulting in a gradual decrease in the individual’s ability to remember, communicate, reason and think. Often thought of as a condition associated with old age, the likelihood of developing dementia certainly increases significantly as we get older. However, it can affect people in their 40s, 50s and 60s too, bringing its own set of considerations and concerns.
Young onset dementia, also referred to as ‘early onset’ or ‘working age’ dementia is considered when a person develops dementia before the age of 65, and it affects around 42,000 people in the UK today. Depending on the type of dementia the person has, dementia in younger people can affect memory, thinking, perception, personality, mood and behaviour; everyone’s experience of the condition is different, and progression of the disease differs from one person to the next.
Some aspects of young-onset dementia distinguish it from other forms, bringing added complications and making it more difficult for individuals, their families and even medical advisers to detect.
Case study: 'Not enough people are aware of early onset dementia, never mind understand it' Read Debbie’s story on Alzheimer’s Society’s blog
The impact of young onset dementia
Any dementia diagnosis can have a profound effect on the individual and those around them, but according to Alzheimer’s Society, there are important differences in how dementia affects younger people, including what causes it. For example:
- A wider range of diseases can cause young-onset dementia.
- A younger person is much more likely to have a rarer form of dementia.
- Younger people with dementia are less likely to have memory loss as one of their first symptoms.
- Young-onset dementia is more likely to cause problems with movement, walking, co-ordination or balance.
- Young-onset dementia is more likely to be inherited (passed on through genes) – this affects up to 10% of younger people with dementia.
- It can be harder for a younger person to accept they may have dementia if they are otherwise fit and well.
Crucially, someone who develops dementia at a younger age needs to adjust to living with a long-term condition at an earlier stage in their life. They may be in employment and concerned about the effect on their working life and finances; they are more likely to have children at home and/or parents who they care for; and they may worry about the impact on their relationship. And given the genetic link with some cases of early-onset dementia, they may also be worried that any children or siblings will have a higher risk of developing the condition.
All this adds up to a lot to deal with, on top of the day to day management of their symptoms. Spotting the signs early and getting the right diagnosis is important to allow people to access the treatment and support they may need and carry on living life to the full.