Younger onset dementia or early onset dementia is a term used to describe any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65. Compared with late onset, younger onset dementia poses different challenges. These include employment issues, sometimes leading to financial matters and family life where there are young dependent children involved. It may be difficult to diagnose at an early stage, possibly due to a lack of awareness that dementia can affect younger people and possibly because it does not fall within the remit of any one specialist medical consultant. It can be misdiagnosed as depression, stress or, in women, the menopause.
There are more than 5,000 younger people with dementia in Ireland; however, this figure is likely to be underestimated.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia in younger people (accounting for approximately a third of all cases). About half of all people with early onset dementia have a family history. The symptoms of early onset dementia are often similar to those of late onset and include:
Alzheimer's disease, vascular disease, FTD, and Dementia with Lewy bodies are the most common causes of dementia in younger people. However, the younger a person is at the time of onset, the greater the likelihood that the disease has a genetic (i.e. familial) component.
Due to a general lack of awareness it can be difficult and time consuming for younger person to get an accurate diagnosis. There are few specialist diagnostic services for younger people. Diagnosis will usually be made by a neurologist with an interest in the area or by a specialist Memory Clinic service.
When a person is diagnosed with younger onset dementia she/he may still able to manage activities of daily living. The person may still be in full time employment, have young children, and they may feel overwhelmed and frightened about what the future holds. An early and accurate diagnosis is important so that the person and the family can discuss financial, legal, care and employment matters for example.