Can You Really Get Dementia In Your 30s Or 40s
The Alzheimers Society hopes increasing evidence of the numbers of people with early onset dementia some in their 30s and 40s will lead to better diagnosis
If youve watched a parent or grandparent go through the unforgiving torment of dementia, or visited relatives in a care home where other residents have the disease, you may associate it mainly with the frail and elderly.
But new figures show early onset dementia affects far more people in the UK than had previously been thought with the increase attributed not to a greater prevalence of illness but the fact that younger people may either be too frightened to seek help, or are turned away or misdiagnosed when they do. Thousands of those affected are in their 40s and more than 700 are in their 30s.
People are reluctant to go to their GP because theyre afraid of what might happen, explains George McNamara, head of policy at the Alzheimers Society. These are people whove got families and mortgages to pay. The stigma which still exists around dementia can mean they may have to give up working unnecessarily because of a lack of understanding about the condition. Accessing things like travel insurance might become difficult. People with dementia tell us they often lose friends.
How Is Dementia Treated
Treatment of dementia depends on the underlying cause. Neurodegenerative dementias, like Alzheimers disease, have no cure, though there are medications that can help protect the brain or manage symptoms such as anxiety or behavior changes. Research to develop more treatment options is ongoing.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and maintaining social contacts, decreases chances of developing chronic diseases and may reduce number of people with dementia.
Difficulty Finding The Right Words
Another early symptom of dementia is struggling to communicate thoughts. A person with dementia may have difficulty explaining something or finding the right words to express themselves. Having a conversation with a person who has dementia can be difficult, and it may take longer than usual to conclude.
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Early Signs Of Dementia
Dementia symptoms, including memory problems, can interfere with everyday life and cause panic and frustration for older adults who may struggle with short-term memory loss and forget simple things such as:
- The location of their car or house keys
- The phone number of a family member or friend
- The item they were looking for in the kitchen or bedroom
- What they ate for breakfast
- Whether they took their medication
Experiencing memory loss isnt a 100% indicator, but it’s important to spot signs to determine a clear diagnosis and treatment plan.
Focus On Early Intervention
Dr. Karen Overall covers the title question in her book, Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats.
Q: How long will the dog have left if he or she is treated?A: We cannot know the answer to this question, but the earlier intervention is attempted, the greater the likelihood of a longer and happier life. Overall, the amount of life left will increase , but the Quality of Life will increase even more.
Some board certified veterinary behaviorists will do long distance consults via telephone or video conferencing with you and your local veterinarian. You can search the directory of members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists to find some help for your dog and your family.
The two studies I cited almost seem to contradict each other. One says that dogs with dementia may have the same life expectancy as those without. The other describes the fast progression of the disease. More research will surely be done on both of these fronts. But the results arent really contradictory. What they do tell us, though, is that if our dog shows any signs of cognitive abnormality, medical help is in order. This can even be done as a preventative measure as Dr. Christensen describes.
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Words From A Veterinary Behaviorist About The Progression Of Dementia
In the U.S., board-certified veterinary behaviorists are vets who undergo years of structured training in animal behavior after veterinary school and must pass a rigorous examination before being certified. They are trained to treat behavior problems as well as underlying medical problems and often work in tandem with a general vet and a credentialed dog trainer. They are the specialists best qualified to diagnose and treat canine cognitive dysfunction.
Board certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. ELise Christensen, DVM DACVB was kind enough to answer some questions about the life expectancy of dogs with CCD in her practice and experience.
Is canine cognitive dysfunction a fatal disease like Alzheimers?I havent seen information on that and I havent seen dogs die on their own of CCD. The reality is that families seeking help from veterinarians arent likely to have their pets die at home from this disease, but rather they will be euthanized due to the disturbing symptoms or due to another medical co-morbidity in my experience.
However, really proactive treatment of cognitive dysfunction is still hard to find for clients. It can be difficult to find a veterinarian who knows all of the treatments for this disorder, unless he/she is a veterinary behaviorist. Knowledgeable clients who passionately advocate for their pets will likely have the best outcomes.
The Early Signs Of Dementia Are Very Subtle And May Not Be Immediately Obvious
Early symptoms also vary a great deal.
Usually though, people first seem to notice that there is a problem with memory, particularly in remembering recent events.
Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
It’s normal to occasionally forget appointments or a friend’s phone number and remember them later.
A person with dementia may forget things more often and not remember them at all.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks
People can get distracted from time to time and they may forget to serve part of a meal.
A person with dementia may have trouble with all steps involved in preparing a meal.
Confusion about time and place
It’s normal to forget the day of the week – for a moment.
But a person with dementia may have difficulty finding their way to a familiar place, or feel confused about where they are.
Problems with language
Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with dementia may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making sentences difficult to understand.
Problems with abstract thinking
Managing finances can be difficult for anyone, but a person with dementia may have trouble knowing what the numbers mean.
Poor or decreased judgment
A person with dementia may have difficulty judging distance or direction when driving a car.
Problems misplacing things
Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. A person with dementia may put things in inappropriate places.
Changes in personality or behaviour
A loss of initiative
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Common Forms Of Dementia
There are many different forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form and may contribute to 60-70% of cases. Other major forms include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies , and a group of diseases that contribute to frontotemporal dementia . Dementia may also develop after a stroke or in the context of certain infections such as HIV, harmful use of alcohol, repetitive physical injuries to the brain or nutritional deficiencies. The boundaries between different forms of dementia are indistinct and mixed forms often co-exist.
Symptoms Specific To Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s. Some people have both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, often called “mixed dementia”.
Symptoms of vascular dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, although memory loss may not be as obvious in the early stages.
Symptoms can sometimes develop suddenly and quickly get worse, but they can also develop gradually over many months or years.
Specific symptoms can include:
- stroke-like symptoms: including muscle weakness or temporary paralysis on one side of the body
- movement problems difficulty walking or a change in the way a person walks
- thinking problems having difficulty with attention, planning and reasoning
- mood changes depression and a tendency to become more emotional
Read more about vascular dementia.
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What Can You Do About It
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 seniors over the age of 65 has dementia. Though the disease affects each patient differently, most people with Alzheimer’s live only 4 to 8 years after diagnosis.
While you cannot reverse dementia or the damage it causes, there are ways to improve quality of life. Here are some simple tips for management that you can discuss with your doctor:
- Take prescription medications to counteract cognitive and behavioral symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
- Find support in the form of therapy, support groups, friends, or family to help develop coping mechanisms for cognitive and behavioral changes.
- Address safety issues in the home by installing safety bars in the bathroom and shower, automatic shut-off switches on appliances, and reminders to lock the door.
- Stay on top of co-existing conditions, working with your doctor to manage medical problems with the proper form of treatment.
- Follow a healthy diet that supports brain health and function. Focus on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, natural sources of omega fatty acids, and foods high in fiber and protein.
- Talk to your doctor about taking supplements to support memory and cognitive function. Options you might consider include caprylic acid, coenzyme Q10, ginkgo biloba, phosphatidylserine, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Key Features Of Dementia
A person having dementia means that all five of the following statements are true:
- A person is having difficulty with one or more types of mental function. Although its common for memory to be affected, other parts of thinking function can be impaired. The 2013 DSM-5 manual lists these six types of cognitive function to consider: learning and memory, language, executive function, complex attention, perceptual-motor function, social cognition.
- The difficulties are a decline from the persons prior level of ability. These cant be lifelong problems with reading or math or even social graces. These problems should represent a change, compared to the persons usual abilities as an adult.
- The problems are bad enough to impair daily life function. Its not enough for a person to have an abnormal result on an office-based cognitive test. The problems also have to be substantial enough to affect how the person manages usual life, such as work and family responsibilities.
- The problems are not due to a reversible condition, such as delirium, or another reversible illness. Common conditions that can cause or worsen dementia-like symptoms include hypothyroidism, depression, and medication side-effects.
- The problems arent better accounted for by another mental disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia.
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Diagnosing Early Onset Dementia
Giordano says that regardless of a persons age, early diagnosis of any cognitive changes is important to finding the most appropriate intervention that may help slow the progression of the disease because, You cant reverse memory loss or other neurological changes, but you may be able to slow down any new loss or changes.
He says diagnosing early onset dementia can be tricky because many patientsor their loved onesmay justify symptoms like memory loss to stress and/or a hectic lifestyle and As a result, they dont speak to their doctor to have a diagnostic evaluation that may lead to interventions.
Evaluation of the diagnosis includes pencil and paper tests administered by a clinician. The results may indicate loss of cognitive function at an early stage. Blood tests to detect the presence of inflammatory markers and also tests that determine if the person has a strong genetic risk of early onset dementia and an MRI screening are also commonly used to diagnose the condition, says Giordano.
Signs Of Mild Alzheimers Disease
In mild Alzheimers disease, a person may seem to be healthy but has more and more trouble making sense of the world around him or her. The realization that something is wrong often comes gradually to the person and his or her family. Problems can include:
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment leading to bad decisions
- Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- Repeating questions
- Increased sleeping
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
A common cause of death for people with Alzheimers disease is aspiration pneumonia. This type of pneumonia develops when a person cannot swallow properly and takes food or liquids into the lungs instead of air.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimers, though there are medicines that can treat the symptoms of the disease.
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Problems Writing Or Speaking
The person may also have difficulty with words and communication. They may find it hard to follow or contribute to a conversation, or they may repeat themselves. They may also have difficulty writing down their thoughts.
The person may stop in the middle of a conversation, unable to figure out what to say next. They may also struggle to find the right word or label things incorrectly.
It is not uncommon for people to occasionally struggle to find the right word. Typically, they eventually remember it and do not experience the problem frequently.
Problems With Vision And Spatial Awareness
Alzheimers disease can sometimes cause vision problems, making it difficult for people to judge distances between objects. The person may find it hard to distinguish contrast and colors or judge speed or distance.
These vision problems combined can affect the persons ability to drive.
Normal aging also affects eyesight, so it is essential to have regular checkups with an eye doctor.
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Take Care Of Yourself
Your help is really important to your loved one’s quality of life. But it’s a lot to take on. You’ll probably feel anxious, depressed, and even angry sometimes. A person with dementia often needs long hours of care and a lot of monitoring, which can make you feel exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s OK to feel this way. Many caregivers do.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Here are some tips to relieve your stress:
- Be realistic. Accept that you can’t do it all alone and that it’s OK to ask for help or say yes when someone offers. It’s also fine to say no.
- Don’t quit your job until your loved one has a definitive diagnosis and you’ve fully explored any employee benefits. This helps keep income flowing and relieves stress about lack of funds, at least temporarily. Talk to your boss about flex options, like telecommuting.
- Stay informed. Learn all you can about early-onset dementia and how it can affect your family’s life. You’ll be better prepared for future changes.
- Talk to others. Get support from family and close friends. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside. Sharing your emotions and journey can be helpful. Caregiver support groups are available and may be a safe place for you to discuss your feelings and unwind.
- Walk it off. Exercise is a great stress reliever. It will help you sleep better, think better, and have more energy.
What Happens In Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia can cause different symptoms depending on where the blood vessels are damaged in the brain. For example, a person who had a stroke may have sudden problems with memory, balance, or speech. However, a person can have several strokes that may be unnoticeably small, but the damage can add up over time.
Many people with vascular dementia have trouble with memory. Others may have difficulty with organization and solving complex problems, slowed thinking, or being easily distracted. People with vascular dementia may also have changes in mood or behavior, such as irritability, loss of interest, or depression.
Sometimes, people with vascular dementia have trouble with balance and movement. This might include weakness on one side of the body, and the symptoms may get worse over time.
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Variables Impacting Life Expectancy Calculations
Gender. Men dont live as long with Alzheimers as women. A study of more than 500 people diagnosed with Alzheimers disease between 1987 and 1996 found that women with Alzheimers live, on average, 20% longer than men. Age. Someone diagnosed at 65 lives an average of about eight years, while someone over 90 who gets a diagnosis typically lives about three-and-a-half more years. Strength of Symptoms at Diagnosis. If someone is showing especially severe dementia-related problems at the time of diagnosis, this usually leads to an earlier death. Someone who wanders, is prone to falling, and experiences urinary incontinence , will typically not live as long. A lower mini-mental state examination score at the time of diagnosis will also not live as long. Other Health Problems. A person with a history of heart problems or asthma or diabetes, for example, will not live as long as someone without those underlying issues.
What Are The Main Types Of Dementia
Dementia isn’t a disease in itself, it’s a term used to describe symptoms caused by other diseases that affect the brain. Knowing the type of dementia means treatment can be more specific to an individual’s needs.
The most common types of dementia are:
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that targets the part of the brain that controls memory, language and thought. Alzheimer’s and dementia often get confused with one another, which can cause upset and confusion.
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease. This type of dementia is caused when the brain becomes damaged due to lack of blood supply, for instance following a stroke.
Other types of dementia
There are many other, rarer, types of dementia such as dementia with Lewy bodies or frontotemporal dementia. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease may lead to someone developing dementia.
The many different types and related conditions can be confusing and overwhelming if you have received a dementia diagnosis or know someone with it. Ask your doctor if you have any questions.
Dementia in the UK
- 850,000 people have dementia in the UK.
- 1 in 6 people over 80 have dementia.
- Only 43% of people with dementia have actually been diagnosed.
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