If you have these symptoms, get yourself assessed for young-onset dementia
Young-onset dementia is rising alarmingly in Singapore with over 4000 estimated cases in 2016. The consequences are disastrous.
Clara, 35, came home on Friday after a tiring day at work. Her daughter asked her how her day was, and instead of answering, she was at a loss for words. This was happening more and more frequently these days. And this frustrated her. In fact, her daughter confided that Clara had started behaving differently. And this was because Clara was suffering from young-onset dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a set of symptoms that include memory loss, an inability to think and reason clearly, and difficulties with language. You may have heard of Alzheimer's disease. It is one of the causes of dementia. In most cases, it is a condition seen in old people.
However, young-onset dementia is when it occurs in someone younger than 65 years of age. In many cases, it begins often in the 40s.
What causes dementia?
There are many causes of dementia, but broadly, it is caused by a degeneration of the brain or it could be because of a disturbance in the blood supply to the brain.
The most common causes are Alzheimer's disease, Vascular Brain Injuries, Lewy Body Disease. The less common causes are frontotemporal dementia, prion disease, Huntington's disease and Tauopathies. All these sound grim, and let me tell you, they are grim.
That said, as a person younger than 65, I am more concerned with what are the risk factors.
Risk factors for young-onset dementia
As with any other disease, there are a few risk factors that you can do nothing about, and there are some that you can work on.
The non-modifiable risk factors for dementia are a familial history of Alzheimer's disease, a rare inherited subtype caused because of a mutation. Also, women are more are a risk than men, though this is due to the longer lifespan.
But, there are quite a few modifiable risk factors. Obesity and sedentary lifestyle have been linked to dementia, particularly when associated with diabetes. In addition, smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse increase the risk of dementia considerably.
When should you suspect you have young-onset dementia?
Typically, dementia is characterised by a loss of memory. The patient starts forgetting people, events, even how to do a few things. However, it might start a bit differently in young-onset dementia.
According to the Alzheimer's Society, UK, in people younger than 65, the problems are more to do with the movement, walking, balance, and coordination.
Like Clara, you may have difficulty articulating your thoughts or have fits of frustration and rage. In Alzheimer's disease, a young patient may suffer from disturbances in vision, speech, planning and decision making, and behaviour.
Due to its strong genetic association, if your parent suffered from dementia, you should be on an alert. In a few cases, the symptoms are apparent in the early 30s. So, if you feel that you are suffering from these unusual symptoms, you should go and see a doctor. It might be nothing, but then, it could also lead to an early detection of dementia.
Is it treatable?
The treatment options are based on the cause of dementia. However, it is better to start the treatment early than delay it. And this can only happen if the disorder is diagnosed early. This is particularly relevant in the young population as this affects their livelihood. Many people lose their jobs because of this, and they may be the sole bread-earners.
On 21 September, on the World Alzheimer's day, we tried our best in spreading the word about the disorder. Today, I am just reminding you all about the non-obvious symptoms that you should not ignore. And for Pete's sake, stop smoking already! It causes nothing but pain and suffering to you and your family.