Topics around dementia have always been focused on late-onset, specifically on people aged 65 and older. However, a rare type affects individuals below 65, with reports stating that diagnosis can be as early 30s.
Young onset dementia (YOD) refers to patients diagnosed with a neurological condition under age 65. Most cases of this type of dementia are seen in people between the age of 40 to 50, but it can also affect people as young as 30, an infrequent occurrence.
Prevalence of Early Onset Dementia
With its prevalence rate doubled recently, early-onset dementia is another health problem to be worried about. In an analysis of worldwide cases, 119 in every 100,000 people have all-cause young onset dementia. It's two times more than the analysis result conducted in the UK, with 42 in every 100,000 people, and in Japan, 54 in every 100,000 in 2003 and 2009, respectively.
Overall, experts estimate that there are 3.9 million cases of young-onset dementia worldwide—less than 10% of the 4.4 million cases of late-onset dementia.
Young Onset Dementia Causes
Doctors rarely see an incidence of early-onset dementia, making it difficult to identify its clear cause or diagnose its symptoms. The unfamiliarity with the general disease structure often leads to misdiagnosis with depression or burnout.
Alzheimer's Disease (AD)
It's the most common type of not only late-onset dementia but also early-onset dementia. Alzheimer's disease causes about 30 to 35% of young-onset cases.
Alzheimer's occurs when proteins called amyloid and tau abnormally build up and tangle around and within brain cells.
It's a form of dementia that leads to the shrinking of the brain (atrophy) and death of the brain cells.
Vascular Dementia (VD)
This type of dementia contributes to roughly 15% of the entire young-onset dementia cases. It's also the second most common dementia that affects younger people.
Vascular dementia happens when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted or reduced, causing brain cells to die. People with this type of dementia are those with cardiovascular conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, small vessels, and atherosclerosis.
Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
Roughly 10 to 15% of young onset dementia is due to frontotemporal dementia. Brain damage caused by FTD to the frontal and temporal lobes results in brain shrinkage.
FTD's cause is unknown, but experts believe several genetic mutations could be associated with its development.
Alcohol-related Brain Damage (ARBD)
Excessive drinking can lead to brain damage. About 10% of young-onset dementia occurrences are attributed to brain damage caused by alcohol. When alcohol enters the body, it produces a chemical called acetaldehyde which is neurotoxic to the brain cells and impairs memory. This chemical can also cause amnesia.
Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)
Similar to Alzheimer's disease, the cause of Lewy Body Dementia is also the abnormal accumulation of proteins in the brain that leads to various cognitive problems. These proteins are known as Lewy bodies.
People diagnosed with LBD have identical neurotoxic plaques and tangles seen in people diagnosed with Alzheimer's. LBD makes up around 5% of young-onset dementia cases.
Although not common, young-onset Parkinson's disease (YOPD) can develop in people under 65 years old as a result of inherited genes that overproduce a protein called alpha-synuclein that constitutes Lewy bodies.
Like what causes LBD, clumps of Lewy bodies affect brain function, leading to Parkinson’s disease and dementia symptoms.
Some incidences of young-onset dementia are believed to stem from uncommon causes or brain disorders that progressively damage the nervous system.
Huntington's disease (HD)
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)
Vitamin B12 Deficiencies
Young Onset Dementia Symptoms
The symptoms of young onset are not different from the type of dementia that develops later in life. They include:
- Memory loss that interferes with day-to-day life
- Problems with accomplishing familiar tasks
- Disorientation of space and time
- Confusion, agitation, and aggressiveness
- Repetitive behaviors
- Changes in behavior and emotional responses (e.g., mood swings, overreacting to things, easily irritated)
- Problems with language
- Reduced social functioning
- Decline in various aspects of cognitive abilities (e.g., reasoning, planning, learning new things, and understanding complex ideas)
Like the late-onstage, as dementia progresses, symptoms become worse and increasingly difficult to manage.
Young Onset Dementia Test
Since physicians aren't familiar with cases of young-onset dementia, it's tricky to diagnose. Additionally, its shared symptoms with depression and burnout, which frequently affects middle-aged individuals increase the possibility of misdiagnosis.
The assessment process for people under the age of 65 with possible early-case dementia includes the following:
- A full review of the person's medical history, current health situation, and day-to-day difficulties or symptoms that they've experienced
- Complete physical examination
- Mental ability tests that include an evaluation of behavior and overall ability to perform tasks
- One or more brain scans
- And possibly a lumbar puncture to analyze spine fluid
A specialist focused on diagnosing dementia in younger people may be available in some areas.
One thing that can help find out about early brain impairment and, subsequently, get better treatment is measuring the overall risk.
For example, if you have a first-degree relative with early-onset dementia, and one family member is an alcoholic and chain smoker, the potential dementia risk for that person is high.
To evaluate your risk, ask your doctor for a referral to a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist, and other dementia care specialists.
People with Young-Onset Dementia Need More Support
A loved one getting a dementia diagnosis in their 30s, 40s, or 50s is hard to accept and deal with. People in these ages often have important responsibilities to fulfill. They're either employees who financially support their own families or people who are pursuing big dreams—and the news of dementia can be heartbreaking and cause severe anxiety and stress.
Those who get an early diagnosis of dementia need even more support from as many people as possible in facing the challenges that compromise their mental health. The more hands get involved and give care, the more receptive your loved one becomes to treatment recommendations to prolong their quality of life.
If you need information about young onset dementia, Senex Memory Advisors is committed to expanding dementia care education to everyone through our available certified dementia advisors. Get in touch with us today!
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.