Can ‘Younger’ People Suffer From Dementia

The term “younger people suffering from dementia” has been coined by social care and health professionals. This term refers to sufferers who are under the age of 65. These folks may have different needs than more elderly patients. While early-onset dementia is rare, it’s certainly not unheard of, with over 40,000 people suffering from this disorder in the UK alone, according to a recent report.

Early-Onset Dementia

Dementia is a word used to describe symptoms that include difficulty with the thought process, memory loss, trouble with problem solving or issues where language is concerned. As difficult as it may be to come to grips with the fact that an older family member or loved one has dementia, it can be even more devastating when a relatively young, vital person suddenly begins to show symptoms. Family life may be affected drastically if the person suffering is still employed outside the home, and especially when they are the only provider for the household, if they serve as caregivers for elderly parents or when there are still have dependents at home. This condition can be difficult to understand, diagnose and acknowledge.

Different Forms Of Dementia In Those Under 65

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia in younger patients. Alzheimer’s is a physical disease that plays havoc with the brain. As proteins begin to form plaques and tangles, the subsequent loss of connections between nerve cells leads to the death of these cells and loss of brain tissue. Chemical messengers have a more difficult time transmitting signals effectively as the disease progresses. It is not unusual for people with Down’s Syndrome and other learning disabilities to develop dementia while relatively young due to Alzheimer’s disease. 

Vascular Dementia 

Vascular Dementia, the second most common form of dementia in younger patients, occurs when there are problems in the blood supply to the brain.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia, sometimes called Pick’s disease (or frontal lobe dementia), refers to the two lobes of the brain damaged by this form of dementia. These lobes control behavior and emotions — especially on the right side of the brain — and control language or cognition on the left side of the brain. When nerve cells die and the pathways connecting them change, the brain tissue in the lobes shrink, causing changes in behavior, personality and difficult speaking.  

Korsakoff’s Syndrome 

Korsakoff’s Syndrome is a form of alcohol-related dementia occurring in people who frequently/regularly consume large amounts of alcohol. This results in a lack of thiamine in the body, affecting the brain and nervous symptom. About 10 percent of dementia in younger people is alcohol related. The prognosis, however, is good; with proper support and an alcohol-free lifestyle, most patients can make a full or partial recovery and the condition will not worsen.  

The Relationship Between Alzheimer’s Disease And Parkinson’s Disease

Lewy bodies are small deposits of protein in nerve cells, and although research is ongoing, many believe that they may signal dementia. Their presence is linked to low amounts of dopamine and acetylcholine (chemical messengers) in the brain which leads to a loss of connections between nerve cells. This leads to the progressive death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue, often leading to Parkinson’s disease. About one-third of patients who develop Altzheimer’s disease eventually end up suffering from Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Diagnosing Younger People Suffering From Dementia

There is often a lack of awareness that dementia can occur in younger people, making diagnosis a slow process. Some professionals put the symptoms down to depression, relationship issues, stress or the onset of menopause. Families and caregivers are the best aid to early diagnosis, since they may be the first to experience that the person “wasn’t quite themselves” or that they started making unusual errors or choices. Neurologists specializing in services for younger people with dementia and cognitive problems are not easy to find, but consulting with a competent neurologist may be key to a successful diagnosis, especially in cooperation with a family GP who is familiar with the patient and family. There is also a great deal of support available from your local Alzheimer’s Society or through various online sites.