How to Recognize Young Onset Dementia and What to Do When You See It

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What Is Young Onset Dementia?

Young onset dementia is a collection of symptoms that may include short term memory loss, confusion, personality changes, loss of inhibition and getting lost in familiar areas. Sometimes young onset dementia, which means symptoms appearing before age 65, may also be referred to as early onset dementia. Here are 3 examples of persons who may be experiencing symptoms of young onset dementia:

1. 53-year old Tim has been a middle school custodian for over 15 years. He has always enjoyed a friendly rapport with the kids and has never received anything less than a stellar evaluation from his supervisor. Over the last year, however, many of the female teachers have complained that Tim has been very flirtatious with them. The school principal was shocked by this as there had never been any complaints about Tim up until now. Tim’s supervisor also recalls that Tim showed up a few times on Saturdays recently, thinking that it was a school day.

2. Dan recently came home to find his wife 61-year old Pam in the kitchen struggling to remember how to prepare mashed potatoes. Pam has always been a great cook and Dan was very concerned when he saw how confused she was.

3. 58-year old Donna recently went to the mall with her 9-year old grandson, Ben, to buy a Halloween costume. The entire family became concerned when the pair were out for over four hours when they were expected back within an hour. When they returned Ben was joking about how his grandmother couldn’t find her way back to the house.

What should the colleagues, family and friends of Tim, Pam and Donna do?

When unusual, out-of-character young onset dementia symptoms occur, it is important to encourage that person to talk to the doctor as soon as possible. Sometimes young onset dementia symptoms can be caused by reversible conditions such as nutrition deficiencies, infection, depression or other causes. But young onset dementia symptoms can also indicate degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia or Huntington’s disease.

Sometimes when people are exhibiting symptoms of young onset dementia, the signs can be sporadic. For example, perhaps after the mall incident with Ben, nothing else “off” happens with Donna for another month. Persons experiencing possible symptoms of young onset dementia might also be in denial about what they are going through. Try to be patient with the person if she doesn’t want to address the issue immediately. It may take time for her to agree to get an assessment.

Consider reaching out to others who know and love the person with young onset dementia symptoms. In the case of Tim, it’s important to be mindful of human resources regulations but maybe referring Tim to an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider and asking him to bring his wife might be more effective than just recommending he see his doctor.

Strive to keep the person with young onset dementia symptoms and others safe. In the case of Pam, Dan might want to oversee her when she’s working in the kitchen to reduce fire hazards. Ben’s parents should be cautious about allowing him to ride in a car with his grandmother Donna.

While most dementia diagnoses occur with persons well over 65, it’s important to recognize that dementia can happen to younger persons as well. When you see unusual symptoms involving memory, confusion or personality changes, try to help this person identify the problem so it can be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

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