Memory loss. Confusion. Frustration. When people think about dementia, images of seniors in their twilight years often come to mind. Dementia was traditionally the domain of people 65 years of age and older, but an increasing number of younger people are being diagnosed with the disease.
“We are now seeing more and more patients with dementia who are in their fifties or even late forties,” says Dr. Atul Sunny Luthra, Medical Lead of Behavioural Health and Geriatric Outreach at Hamilton Health Sciences. “Cognitive impairment identified in patients before the age of 65 is referred to as early-onset dementia.”
Dementia is a disease of the brain that causes a decrease in cognitive functioning, such as impaired reasoning and memory loss, which is great enough to affect a person’s daily functioning.
“There are many subtypes of dementia and the trend toward increased early-onset dementia appears in almost all subtypes,” explains Dr. Luthra, “The reason for this trend is not clear and it requires more study.”
A clue to understanding the causes of this disease may be found in the common medical histories of many patients suffering from early-onset dementia.
“When you look at these patients, a vast majority of them appear to have suffered from stress-related illnesses and emotional disorders. Vascular risk factors, in terms of diabetes, hypertension and obesity, may also play a role in the genesis of the disease. However, the story is far from complete as to why we’re seeing more early-onset dementia.”
Although no cure is known for the disease, Dr. Luthra suggests preemptive measures that might reduce a person’s chances of getting early-onset dementia.
“Make sure that your vascular health is closely monitored by a physician,” he suggests. “Also pay attention to your emotional well-being and ensure that you are receiving any necessary treatment. A healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, exercise and mental stimulation is your best bet. As further study is done into early-onset dementia, we’ll be able to connect more dots and get a clearer picture of this disease.”