Sure, everyone forgets things—where we left our keys, when our doctor’s appointment is, the name of the woman who lives down the block, and so on. This is normal loss of memory, and it’s part of being human and growing older. Sometimes, though, these memory-loss symptoms are more severe and seem to indicate a level of brain dysfunction that could be early onset dementia, a rare but very serious condition.
What are Early Onset Dementia Symptoms?
Early onset dementia, or early onset Alzheimer’s, is very rare, accounting for only five to ten percent of Alzheimer’s cases. The term refers to cases of the disease that begin before age 65. People who experience this disease usually have close relatives who have suffered from Alzheimer’s, giving them a genetic predisposition. However, it’s possible for people without any close relatives affected by Alzheimer’s to develop the disease. Some sufferers have noticed symptoms even as early as their twenties, though onset is more common in middle age, around age 45 or 50.
Signs of early onset dementia are the same as later onset dementia: difficulty remembering recent events and the names of people and things. From there, it progresses through the expected stages of dementia, with sufferers experiencing mood swings, difficulty communicating, severe fatigue, and loss of balance, progressing until they have are unable to care for themselves. The special difficulty of early onset dementia is that it is so unexpected that most people attribute these symptoms to laziness, fatigue, or psychiatric problems, never considering that they could be related to dementia.
These life-changing symptoms are difficult enough for the actual sufferer, who will more than likely resent the loss of control over her life, let alone the loss of her memories. But the consequences of early onset dementia are actually even greater than this. Those who experience significant symptoms before the age of 65 usually have to quit work, sometimes before they qualify for full retirement or government benefits. If they still have children at home, sufferers may no longer be able to care for them or truly interact with them. Sufferers will have to give up their duties caring for their elderly parents. Worse still, their spouse may have to leave work as well to become a fulltime caregiver, further stressing their finances. Spouses may mourn the loss of intimacy as they watch their partner descend into dementia. In these and many more ways, early onset dementia affects the life of an entire family, not just one person.
If you think you’re beginning to suffer from symptoms of early onset dementia, talk to your doctor to make absolutely sure. If one or more of your close relatives suffered from Alzheimer’s or early onset dementia, your doctor may recommend genetic testing to see if you have any genetic markers for the disease. Regardless of whether or not you choose genetic testing, it’s vital to get an accurate diagnosis so that you can explain to your employer and loved ones what is happening to you. Support and understanding are key to battling early onset dementia.