We all know things change as people age. It may feel harder to reach something on the floor or you may notice that someone you love is moving a little slower than they used to. Because these changes happen slowly over time, it can be hard to recognize when they are something to be concerned about. This is especially true when it comes to Early Onset Dementia.
Why it feels hard to talk about early onset dementia
As you think about yourself or someone you care about, hearing the word dementia can be alarming. Simply thinking about dementia often brings up ideas of what that is. People typically picture elderly people who struggle to understand their surroundings and forget things.
While some of this picture can be true, it often leaves out entire groups of people who struggle, especially with early onset dementia. No matter the age of the person diagnosed with early onset dementia, it often feels scary and uncertain.
As you take time to learn more about the diagnosis, symptoms, and care, it is helpful to remember that you do not have to process this alone. As a believer, you can rely on the help and presence of God in all you do, even walking through this.
What is early onset dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease. Several diseases work together to create symptoms such as memory impairments, loss of critical thinking skills, and changes in social abilities that affect daily life. This is not about the occasional misplacement of keys or forgetting someone’s name. Dementia is a pattern of behaviors that worsens over time.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of these symptoms associated with dementia, but it is not the only cause. Because there are many possible causes, some patients never know why they have dementia.
While dementia does seem to be more prevalent in people over the age of sixty-five, it can affect those who are younger. Those who are under sixty-five are classified with Early Onset Dementia because it occurs at a younger age. People in their fifties, forties and even thirties can develop Early Onset Dementia, sometimes called Younger Onset Dementia.
The term simply identifies a person who has the symptoms of dementia at a younger than typical age. Because doctors sometimes miss the signs of dementia in younger patients, it is important to know what to look for so you can address it with your healthcare professional.
What are the signs?
While everyone experiences variations, there are some things you can look for to alert you to the possibility of Early Onset Dementia. Whether you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you, it is important to have conversations with your friends and family to help as you navigate this.
To help you become more aware, consider these possible symptoms. Remember, not all of these indicate a person has a form of dementia. But they are a good starting place to consider and discuss.
Memory loss that interrupts or impacts daily living.
As one of the most common symptoms of dementia, this is what people are most often aware of, especially in family members or friends. Common things to forget include recently learned information, important dates, events, and names. You may notice the person asking questions multiple times or an increase in the frequency of needing help to keep track of plans.
Remember, it is normal for people to forget things occasionally. These memory loss symptoms to be aware of are things that happen with increasing frequency, disrupt daily life, or seem atypical.
Difficulty following directions or solving problems.
Things that were once part of normal life such as following directions can become more difficult for people with dementia. Early signs include difficulty doing these routine things such as following directions, making a recipe, or paying bills.
Occasional errors are not the problem; everyone makes those. Instead, this is about the difficulty one has carrying out plans or concentrating enough to follow through with steps that were once routine. This can be especially prevalent when using numbers or multiple steps.
Trouble completing familiar tasks.
Everyone has things they are familiar with doing. Things like doing laundry, making coffee, a morning routine, or making a grocery list are familiar tasks. With dementia, people can struggle with things that were once familiar and routine.
Sometimes driving somewhere they’ve been to plenty of times can leave them lost. Other times, they mix up the steps to doing the laundry or forget important things in their morning routine like putting on shoes or brushing their teeth.
This isn’t about once-in-a-while struggles. This struggle is all about a pattern of behavior that is developing and increasing over time.
Increased confusion regarding time and places.
Understanding the passing of time or different places can be challenging for people with dementia. It is easy for them to lose track of the date or even whole blocks of time. Sometimes they don’t know where they are or how they got there.
Impaired understanding of visual or spatial relationships.
Some people experience vision problems when they have dementia. This can result in things like poor balance, misunderstanding of how far away an item is, difficulty reading or watching television, and trouble with judging space, distance, and color when driving.
Symptoms like this can be connected to aging or other vision problems, so experiencing these are not necessarily related to Early Onset Dementia. It is important to get the person’s vision checked and speak to the doctor about these issues.
New communication issues.
Whether written or spoken, communication can be very challenging for some people suffering from dementia. Pay attention to how the person holds a conversation or whether they forget words. Frequently repeating things or having trouble naming familiar things can indicate they are struggling in this area.
Forgetting objects or where they’ve been.
Misplacing items or putting them in unusual places regularly can be a symptom of dementia. Similarly, it may be hard for the person to remember what they’ve done or where they’ve been, making it hard to retrace their steps to find lost items.
If the person occasionally misplaces something and can think through what they did and find the item, it is not concerning. If it becomes more frequent and more difficult to retrace their steps to find lost items, it is worth noting.
Using poor judgment.
Dementia can affect a person’s judgment, even when it comes to simple things. If a person who is always well dressed and put together, is suddenly showing up with unbrushed hair or mismatched clothes, it can be a sign that there is something wrong. Similarly, things like personal hygiene or making unusual financial decisions are red flags.
Withdrawal from life activities.
A person struggling with the symptoms of Early Onset Dementia may begin to withdraw from things like work, church, friendships, and social events. This is often linked to some of the other symptoms such as difficulty remembering events, carrying on a conversation, or getting to places that were once familiar.
Mood and personality change.
There are a variety of feelings associated with dementia. Some of these are a result of the symptoms while others are simply connected to the disease processes. It is common for people with Early Onset Dementia to struggle with new feelings of depression, anxiety, confusion, suspicion, and paranoia.
When they experience change or something feels foreign to them, they may exhibit these feelings. At times the patient becomes increasingly vocal about their feelings, sometimes even showing anger, rage, or violence that is atypical for them.
What can I do?
Now that you have a better understanding of what to look for, you may be wondering what you can do. Whether you are concerned about symptoms you see in yourself or someone else the best thing you can do is reach out to talk to a professional.
A doctor or therapist can help you understand what is happening and the best treatment plan. Whatever you do, do not try to navigate this alone. Reach out to a professional today for support and help to deal with the possibility of Early Onset Dementia for you or a loved one.
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