While dementia mainly affects people over the age of 65, it is also seen in those in their 50s, 40s, and even as young as 30. This is known as younger onset dementia (previously known as early onset dementia).
Developing dementia before the age of 65 is not considered common, accounting for less than 10% of all cases.
The symptoms and types of dementia differ slightly from late onset dementia, with a higher incidence of movement, balance, and co-ordination problems seen in the early stages.
People with younger onset dementia often struggle with obtaining a diagnosis, as health professionals do not anticipate a diagnosis of dementia in a younger person and may be more likely to assume the person’s difficulties are arising from another illness, such as depression. Younger people are more likely to be carrying significant caring and financial responsibilities – which makes the impact of a diagnosis particularly distressing.
The most common types of younger onset dementia are:
The most common type of younger onset dementia, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for around 30 per cent of all cases.
Early symptoms differ from the typical form of Alzheimer’s with memory loss less common in the early stages. Symptoms may include:
The earlier the symptoms start to appear, the more likely the cause of Alzheimer’s is genetic. Known as familial Alzheimer’s disease, it develops when gene mutations are found in three specific genes. This type of dementia is extremely rare however, affecting only a few hundred families around the world.
Early onset Alzheimer’s disease is also more likely for those with Down syndrome, who usually have an additional copy of chromosome 21 that carries the gene for the plaque forming protein amyloid.
Read more about Alzheimer’s disease.
The second most common form of early onset dementia, vascular dementia occurs when the brain is damaged due to a lack of blood supply. This can be caused by:
The symptoms of vascular dementia will vary depending on the part of the brain that has been damaged, but tend to be similar to the early symptoms for people over the age of 65.
Read more about vascular dementia.
Seen in a higher proportion among younger people, frontotemporal dementia affects the frontal lobe, responsible for behaviour, and/or the temporal lobe, responsible for language.
It has three subtypes, which in the early stage mainly affect:
Frontotemporal dementia is much more likely to be caused by genetics than other types of dementia, with around 30 per cent inheriting the condition. Genetic counselling and testing may be an option for children and siblings of those with frontotemporal dementia.
Read more about frontotemporal dementia.
A type of alcohol-related brain damage, Korsakoff syndrome is caused by a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency that is most often seen in those who misuse alcohol. Around 10 per cent of those with younger onset dementia have this syndrome and most are in their 50s.
However, unlike most other dementias that get worse with time, symptoms can potentially be stabilised and even improved by treating for vitamin deficiency, staying away from alcohol, and improving nutrition.
Read more about Korsakoff syndrome and alcohol-related brain injury.
Rarer types of dementia
A higher proportion of people with younger onset dementia have rarer forms of dementia, as compared with those over the age of 65. A number of these include problems with movement as well as memory and thinking difficulties.
Each person with dementia will have a different experience of the illness, as symptoms can vary from person to person, hour to hour.
Most dementias are progressive, with symptoms getting worse over time. The exception to this is Korsakoff syndrome, which may stabilise or improve once treatment begins and alcohol use ceases.
In most cases, people with younger onset dementia will require full time care, either at home or at an aged care facility. In some cases, it is possible to move into an aged care facility before the age of 65.
Genetics plays a bigger part in the cause of early onset dementia, however it still only accounts for 10 per cent of cases.
Dementia in younger people can often be secondary to another medical illness such as:
As dementia is not often seen in younger people it may be difficult to diagnose accurately. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best treatments if dementia has been diagnosed.
There is no cure for younger onset dementia or any one medication that can prevent symptoms.
There is no strong evidence that alternative medicines, including herbal mixtures, vitamins or other supplements, prevent or delay dementia, even those that are promoted as doing so.
There are many dementia strategies that you can use at home to live well. These include:
Sharing your experiences with younger onset dementia with those of a similar age can provide benefits to all involved. There are a number of younger onset dementia support groups in Queensland and online that you can get involved in.
A range of support services are available to younger Queenslanders living with dementia, their families, and carers. These include:
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