Dementia mainly affects older people. The term younger onset dementia is used to describe any form of dementia that develops in people under the age of 65. Dementia has been diagnosed in people in their 50s, 40s and even in their 30s.
Younger onset dementia is similar to other types of dementia in many ways. The same problems generally occur but it can have a different impact, because it appears when people are more likely to be employed fulltime, be raising a family or be financially responsible for a family.
Younger onset dementia can be difficult to diagnose, mainly because the person affected seems too young.
The symptoms of dementia are similar regardless of age of onset.
Anybody who suspects they have younger onset dementia should see their doctor. An early diagnosis is important because it allows for early planning and early access to support, information and possibly medication.
Many conditions can produce symptoms that are similar to dementia, such as vitamin and hormone deficiencies, depression, medication, infections and brain tumours. Telling the difference between these conditions and dementia may involve:
- a detailed medical history
- a thorough physical and neurological examination
- pathology tests
- brain imaging
- a psychiatric assessment
- a neuropsychological assessment.
There are many types of dementia. Each type has its own symptoms, signs and findings when investigated, and is caused by a specific type of change in the brain. The most common type of younger onset dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Australia website has information about the different types of dementia, and the Younger Onset Dementia Association website is also very useful.
What happens after a diagnosis of younger onset dementia?
A diagnosis of younger onset dementia can come as a shock. The person affected, and their family and friends, may all feel angry or sad. They might not believe it. There can be a huge sense of loss. These feelings are normal.
But help and support is available, and it is better to get it earlier than later. Alzheimer’s Australia is a good place to start. The organisation can explain what is happening as well as provide emotional support, information, education and counselling.
Alzheimer’s Australia also coordinates support groups throughout Australia. Some of these groups are specifically for carers of people with younger onset dementia, such as the Living with Memory Loss group. Support groups can provide comfort and practical assistance for carers, relatives and friends of people with dementia.
Find out more by visiting the Alzheimer’s Australia website or calling the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
Last reviewed: November 2016