Younger Onset Dementia
The term Younger Onset Dementia is usually used to describe any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65. Dementia has been diagnosed in people in their 50’s, 40’s and even in their 30’s.
Dementia in younger people is much less common than dementia occurring after the age of 65. For this reason it can be difficult and timely to diagnose, but the latest figures show that younger onset dementia affects approximately 16,000 Australians.
A person with younger onset dementia will need extra 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
Encourage the patient to obtain a capacity assessment. The assessment report (usually undertaken by a neuropsychologist) can be used in a range of situations to demonstrate the extent to which the patient has the capacity to make their own decisions.
The assessment looks at a person’s cognitive abilities (e.g. attention, memory, thinking, problem solving), particularly their strengths and weaknesses. This information is important for both carers and the medical team as it can be used to develop strategies to assist with cognitive and behavioural interventions which will vary from individual to individual.
Encourage the patient to plan for the future (e.g. make a will, put power of attorney arrangements in place and to put in place an Advanced Care Plan). Advance care plans state preferences relating to the medical treatment that the person would like to receive when they are unable to make or communicate such a decision.
Referral to a specialist service is required where the patient is young or atypical.
Mental Health symptoms that present for the first time in people aged in their fifties or younger are often an early sign of dementia. Non-recognition means that many of these people will have prolonged incorrect treatment without results.
The possibility of dementia should also be considered by GPs caring for people with a range of chronic diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis, HIV and drug and alcohol abuse.
A correct diagnosis is important.
A complete medical and psychological assessment may identify a treatable condition, or it may confirm the presence of dementia. See GP assessment and management for more information.
Ensure that family are referred to Dementia Australia for support groups and counselling services.
RACGP Submission to House of Representatives - Inquiry into dementia early diagnosis and intervention 2012 pg.8