There is so much we still don’t know about dementia. Who it affects, how, and why, are so difficult to accurately assess. But for the 5% of dementia diagnoses that are early-onset, it is an especially difficult disease.
Early-onset dementia is when an individual is under the age of 65 when they are diagnosed. There are a number of reasons why the barriers are much higher at this age:
It is much harder to detect dementia in a younger individual. Particularly because it seems so unlikely; and even the patient will be unwilling to accept that there is anything ‘wrong’ with them. The best way to tackle this issue is to spread awareness that dementia is not just for the elderly. (indeed, the figure of 5% is suspected to be higher, due to few GPs diagnosing dementia to younger patients).
Furthermore, the chances of developing early-onset dementia are heightened in individuals with learning disabilities, particularly with Down’s syndrome, where 1 in 3 will develop dementia by their 50s.
Early-onset dementia affects working age individuals, who are therefore going to struggle to meet financial and family commitments. If an individual has to exit the workforce early, and their family has to provide care – especially at an age when they might already be caring for ageing parents – it can be particularly crippling to a family’s finances.
But perhaps the most difficult issue to tackle is stigma against these individuals. Mental health stigmas have come a long way, but sadly for most people living with dementia, not far enough. This is much harder on younger persons, who may not have the ‘appearance’ we would associate with dementia and therefore may experience a lower public understanding.
So, what can you do?
If you or someone you know is concerned, speak to your doctor. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the easier the rest of the path becomes – from medication to support. Be confident with the doctor and make sure they understand the concerns. If someone you know is diagnosed with dementia at a young age, show your support. Dementia is not the end of their life as we know it. There is no need to treat them as victims who will no longer participate in activities they enjoy.
As stigmas to mental health and dementia continue to fall, support and care for individuals with dementia at any age will continue to rise.