Symptoms of Early Onset Dementia
Early onset dementia is defined by the appearance of symptoms prior to age 65. Symptoms of early onset dementia do not really differ from those of later onset dementia, but they do tend to appear more suddenly and to progress more rapidly.
They also tend to have a more obvious adverse effect on the person’s life and family because they are often still working and taking care of teenage (or younger) children and aging parents. In the workplace, early onset dementia can contribute to compromised safety, lost work time, uncharacteristic lapses in judgment, conflict with supervisors and colleagues, and reduced productivity.
Common Forms of Early Onset Dementia
Some common forms of early onset dementia are Alzheimer’s dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia. All of these can appear either before or after age 65.
Alzheimer’s type dementia is characterized by a decline in memory and problems with word-finding or visual spatial skills.
Frontotemporal dementia often involves a personality change in which one behaves in socially inappropriate ways, shows impaired judgment and problem-solving, and has difficulty communicating with language.
Lewy body dementia involves a combination of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, visual hallucinations, sleep disturbance, and cognitive decline.
When an early onset dementia is suspected, it is important to identify other potential causes of the person’s cognitive changes. These include:
- Depression or other mental health problems
- Anxiety and/or stress
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea
- Infection or other medical problem
- Substance abuse or medication effects
When an early onset dementia is suspected, a neuropsychological assessment can be helpful by providing:
- A discussion about other possible causes
- An assessment of mood and situational stress
- An objective evaluation of cognitive functioning to identify deficits and strengths
- Baseline data for future comparison to determine if a progressive decline is occurring
- Recommendations regarding potential treatment
- Recommendations for family about what level of care may be needed
- Assistance with future plans
If you or a family member is beginning to show signs of memory loss or other changes in behavior that raise concern about an early onset dementia, the first step is to speak with your doctor. Problems with memory or other mental skills that occur before age 65 do not necessarily mean that an early onset dementia is beginning, and it can be a big relief to identify—and when possible treat—other causes. On the other hand, if an early onset dementia is developing, it is better to know sooner rather than later.