It’s a scary thought. Suddenly finding yourself disoriented in your own neighborhood unable to remember how to get home. Staring helplessly at one of your grandchildren unable to recall the first name. Everyone has moments of forgetfulness, but when should we consider it worrisome? When should you check with your physician about possible early onset dementia symptoms? Is there a way to slow down the progressive condition?
Dementia isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. Dementia can be the symptom of a disease, like Alzheimer’s, or a condition, such as Vascular Dementia. There are dozens of conditions and diseases that can result in a loss of cognitive memory.
Dementia is defined as a cognitive decline due to brain injury or trauma, illness, or disease. The condition affects memory, problem-solving, and language. Typically, older people can develop dementia symptoms as brain cells die as we age. However, people younger than 65 can develop early-onset dementia symptoms. People between the ages of 30 and 65 exhibit what is known as younger-onset dementia.
Younger-onset dementia is not to be confused with early-onset dementia from diseases like Alzheimer’s. In the latter, dementia begins to surface in multiple stages at an early stage. In the former, the person begins to develop dementia at an earlier age than what is typical, usually after the age of 30 years old.
Younger-onset dementia is harder to diagnose since it is not the first condition that the physician may suspect. Everyone forgets things, but someone with younger-onset dementia may begin to show more serious signs as the condition progresses. Unfortunately, it is difficult to admit that something like dementia is happening to someone so young, and most likely, healthy.
The patient may be reluctant to admit to their family, their employer, and to themselves that they need a physician’s assessment for possible dementia. Especially if the patient is a 30-year-old parent or a young corporate-climbing executive. Many of these people have personal and social lives, financial responsibilities, and are still within the working-age, balancing a job with a family.
Should I Worry? Signs of Early Onset Dementia
The signs of early onset dementia vary depending on the larger condition itself. The following is a list of some of the signs and symptoms. A person may only experience one symptom or several which is why it is imperative that you seek the guidance of a physician for a professional assessment. Typically, the symptoms cause problems in a person’s daily life and affect their memory, communication, language, focus, and/or reasoning.
- Short-term memory loss. The person may forget what they are supposed to do or what their keys are for, but they tend to retain long-term memories.
- Jumbled language. The person may say nonsensical things using jumbled words. For example, instead of telling the repairman that their dryer is broken, they may insist that “the washer is dried.”
- Poor judgment. Someone with younger-onset dementia symptoms may begin dressing out of season (for example, shorts in bitterly cold winter) or leaving doors unlocked in a high crime area. They may start exhibiting riskier behaviors as their inhibitions lower.
- Mood swings. The person with dementia may demonstrate extreme mood swings or change their demeanor. A once shy young woman may suddenly become outgoing and loud.
- Lose interest in hobbies and activities. They may stop going out with their friends and not show any interest in the hobbies they used to enjoy.
- Confusion about people, places, and things. The person might forget the names and faces of people they’ve known for years. They become confused about certain objects as they try to figure out why they have these items or what they’re used for. For example, the person may find their wallet, but it suddenly feels foreign to them.
- Confusion over directions. The person may become disoriented while driving, even in their hometown. Buildings and landmarks are no longer a help when the person is driving on an errand.
- Getting lost during conversations. The person with younger-onset dementia may have trouble understanding what someone is saying as they begin to forget the meanings of certain words. Conversations become difficult, and they may not understand the storylines in movies or television programs.
- Repeating themselves. A classic symptom of early onset dementia is repetitive behavior, whether it is a task or a sentence. The person forgets that they’ve already said or done something, so they repeat it.
If you find yourself disoriented in your hometown, speaking in a verbal “word salad,” and repeating things to people, then you should speak honestly and openly with your physician.
Since dementia is often a symptom of another condition, it may take weeks to several months to properly diagnose the root cause. For example, someone with early-onset dementia symptoms may go through a period of monitoring for 6 to 12 months before a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is made. Other conditions with rapidly progressing symptoms may take significantly less time.
Depending on the severity of the dementia, a physician can treat you either at home or in a facility. Some areas offer memory care centers that are popular with older people suffering from dementia and other cognitive impairments. Since younger-onset dementia is rare, there may be few people under the age of 65 in these centers.
With the right type of care, you can receive treatment and therapy at home. Discuss with your physician about at-home nursing care if you need it. The doctor may refer you to a social worker to help with funding after the diagnosis. Most insurances require prior authorization for treatment and medications. The physician’s office can assist you in completing any required forms.
A common side effect of the dementia diagnosis is depression, but these patients typically do not respond well to anti-depressant medications. However, talk therapy can alleviate some of those depressed and anxious feelings associated with dementia. These sessions with a licensed therapist can help the patient make sense of their condition and constructive ways to combat some of the symptoms.
Talk therapy is also beneficial to the family and caregivers of those living with younger-onset dementia. The challenges and stress are easier to handle when the caregiver can share them with the therapist or in a group counseling session.
Often, family counseling can give the patient and their family a sense of hope after diagnosis as they learn new ways to manage the condition and its symptoms. Your physician can refer you to a mental health care professional or faith-based counseling center.
Common Treatments for Early Onset Dementia
Only a licensed physician and/or neurologist can diagnose dementia. Typically, you will take a series of tests, brain scan images, lab work, and physical and neurological exams. The physician will try to pinpoint the condition causing the dementia symptoms. Other diseases that result in dementia symptoms include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, and more.
Once diagnosed, your health care team will work with you to create a plan. This plan varies between dementia patients since each case is highly individualized. Your plan may include occupational and cognitive rehabilitation therapy and/or medications to help improve your memory.
Occupational therapy can improve your daily tasks and quality of living. The therapist works to help with the activities of daily living (ADLs) that may start to become more difficult depending on the underlying condition. These activities include washing, bathing, dressing, and other tasks.
Cognitive rehabilitation therapy can be done in an office and in the patient’s home. This type of therapy helps to improve communication and language complications commonly associated with dementia. The therapist works with the patient to reinforce ways for them to remember people and places, manage household tasks and financial responsibilities, and strengthen communication skills.
To reduce your risk of developing dementia, consider adopting healthy habits such as a nutritious diet and a moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise program. Research activities you can do to improve your memory, reasoning, and problem-solving skills to keep your brain active. Other memory activities include memorizing lyrics to songs, bible verses and passages, and prayers.
“Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Sage Friedman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Brain Model”, Courtesy of Robina Weermeijer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Which Way?”, Courtesy of Jon Tyson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Brainscans”, Courtesy of National Cancer Institute, Unsplash.com, CC0 License