When you think of the typical dementia or Alzheimer’s patient, who comes to mind? It’s probably an older person, right? That’s understandable, because statistics show nearly 96% of the 5.5 million Americans who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are 65 or older. So who makes up the other 4%? People diagnosed with dementia before age 65. These early onset cases are relatively rare, but somehow even more cruel because they strike people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. People who are still caring for children, still paying a mortgage, and still working a career. It’s estimated that about 200,000 Americans suffer from this type of dementia. So how is early onset dementia different from its more traditional form, and how can you spot the signs?
What Causes Early Onset Dementia?
There are a number of different reasons why someone would develop early onset dementia. It could be caused by a disruption in the brain’s blood supply, also known as vascular dementia. In some cases, heavy drinkers develop alcohol-related brain damage or Korsakoff’s syndrome which can both lead to early dementia. Others come down with dementia-causing diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There’s also strong evidence that some forms of early dementia are hereditary. By some estimates, between 7-12% of early onset Alzheimer’s cases are familial and caused by a mutation in three genes. Up to 30% of early onset Frontotemporal dementia cases – caused by damage to the lobes at the front and/or sides of the brain – may be hereditary. If you’re concerned you might be as risk, genetic counseling and testing might provide some needed clarity.
How do Early Onset Dementia Symptoms Differ from Traditional Symptoms
Like its more traditional form, early onset dementia often comes with memory and behavioral changes. These include short-term memory problems, difficulty finding a desired word, and confusion. Young dementia sufferers also might be suddenly more apathetic, or depressed in their daily lives. Some people’s personalities will change, often from shy to outgoing. Others struggle with spacial recognition and might become lost easily. But many early onset dementia patients first experience problems with walking, coordination, and balance. In fact, movement problems are much more common in younger dementia patients than in older ones.
The Unique Challenges of Early Onset Dementia
As with traditional dementia, there is no cure and few available treatments. As the disease progresses, younger patients will require the same round-the-clock care as older patients. But because many early onset patients are first diagnosed in their 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s, they often have more responsibility than older patients. They might still be caring for children, working, or paying a mortgage. As a result, an early diagnosis can cause incredible financial and emotional disruption within a family, forcing some into caregiving roles much earlier than they ever expected. Some spouses might suddenly be faced with being the family’s sole breadwinner for the first time ever. And as we learn more about the physical toll caregiving takes on providers, these families will need all the support they can get.
In Home Caregiving Can Help
Many family members find that support by hiring in-home caregivers to help with the day-to-day tasks of caring for dementia patients. If you live in the Phoenix area, Generations Home Care can provide a caregiver specially matched to your loved one and their unique situation. Some caregivers work every day, others a couple times per week. Either way, this added support will allow a patient’s family member to attend to the other important tasks in their lives or to just take some much-needed time off. If you’d like to learn more, you can contact us by phone at 602-595-HOME (4663) or you can fill out the contact form on our website. Thankfully, early onset dementia is a rare occurrence. But that’s of little comfort to those stricken with this terrible disease.