Dementia is often associated with old-age and is considered by most as a disease that only effects the elderly.
Yet startlingly, dementia has been diagnosed in people in their 50’s, 40’s and even in their 30’s.
For this reason it can be difficult to diagnose and its incidence in the community is still not clear.
The popular award winning movie Still Alice highlights a very important and an often overlooked dimension of dementia and that is younger onset dementia (sometimes also referred to as early onset dementia).
The term ‘younger onset dementia’ is usually used to describe any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65.
Why is an early diagnosis critical?
Consulting a doctor to obtain a diagnosis early is critical. A complete medical and psychological assessment may identify an easily treatable condition, or it may confirm the presence of dementia. An early diagnosis will allow for early planning, the early involvement of support services and perhaps medical treatment.
Are the needs of people with younger onset dementia different?
Supporting a person with younger onset dementia requires additional consideration because the dementia appears at an earlier stage of their life when they are likely to be more physically and socially active.
When diagnosed they may be:
• In full time employment
• Actively raising a family
• Financially responsible for the family
• Physically strong and healthy
How do you support someone with younger onset dementia?
For the family member who is supporting someone with younger onset dementia there are a number of issues and challenges that may arise including financial pressures, role changes, and loss and grief for unfulfilled dreams.
Support people who are partners may also have additional responsibilities, including raising children and managing finances. Sometimes family members and support people might have to consider reducing or giving up work altogether to support the person with dementia. An added difficulty can be the attitude of other people. It can be difficult to accept that a younger person can have dementia, particularly when no obvious physical changes can be seen. It may appear that no-one else in the family or the person’s age group understands what is happening. Children may react strongly to a having to cope with a parent with dementia so it is important to talk openly about the condition.
Talking about it openly helps more people to learn about and understand dementia and helps to create an acceptance of people affected by dementia.
Ongoing Support: If you have any concerns about someone you know you should discuss this with your doctor in the first instance and also contact your local Alzheimers organisation for further advice and support on 0800 004 001