Diagnoses Of Early Onset Dementia Are On The Rise
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Dementia is not the name of a specific disease. Rather it is a term referring to a decline in mental abilities that interferes with daily life. Dementia is usually associated with older people at least over the age of 65. Lately, however, more and more people are being diagnosed with atypical forms of dementia at earlier ages.
This trend does not necessarily mean that more people than ever are suffering from declining mental abilities at an early age. It could just be that doctors are getting better at recognizing and diagnosing them. “There is still limited awareness about early on-set dementias,” said Liana G. Apostolova. She is a professor of neurology, radiology, and medical and molecular genetics at Indiana University School of Medicine and the Indiana Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
The types of dementia affecting younger people are rarer forms. They include diseases such as behavior variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), primary progressive aphasia, a visual and spatial dementia called posterior cortical atrophy, Lewy body dementia, and early-onset Alzheimer’s in people with no family history. There are memory and language issues, visual impairments, and devastating declines in cognitive function.
By age 59, Laura Prewitt’s fun-loving husband Ted had changed into a completely different person. His atypical dementia has caused proteins to develop in parts of his brain that are important for emotional regulation, decision-making, and remembering social information. He forgets people he should know, sleeps a lot, and tries to ingest non-foods. Laura watches him constantly. “He’s just not the same guy,” she says. “I want him back.”
Apostolova is a co-principal investigator of the Longitudinal Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Study (LEADS). It enrolls 500 cognitively impaired people with early-onset dementia due to Alzheimer’s. The study hopes to “develop sensitive clinical and biomarker measures for future clinical and research use.” Another study now known as the ALLFTD seeks to advance “understanding of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and support the development of treatments for this disorder.”
Dementia of any kind is devastating, but these early-onset varieties can be even more aggressive. Apostolova and her colleagues published a studying that found that the earlier the onset of the disease, the more severe the decline. There is currently no way to stop the progression of these atypical forms of dementia. However, there is a growing interest in these diseases and learning whether there is a way to slow their progression.