Younger Onset of Dementia May Have Delayed Diagnosis

Dementia usually occurs later in life, causing confusion, memory issues, and reasoning problems. But when dementia appears in younger people, it is usually mistaken for something else. In fact, research has shown that the average time for diagnosis of late onset dementia (LOD), although still as long as several years, is much shorter than the time it takes to diagnose young onset dementia (YOD). This delay can contribute to significant negative outcomes for younger individuals. For instance, when dementia occurs in younger people, it is often subtle and behavioral in nature. Therefore, the symptoms of forgetfulness, mood changes, and disinterest can be misconstrued and can lead to frustration, anger, and even hostility from family members and loved ones. Younger dementia patients may experience severe interpersonal relationship problems, divorce, parenting difficulties, and job loss as a result of their undiagnosed symptoms.

Deliane van Vliet of the School for Mental Health and Neuroscience at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands wanted to get a better idea of the discrepancy in length of time from symptom onset to diagnosis in YOD when compared to LOD. Using a sample of 167 LOD participants and 235 YOD participants, van Vliet examined reports from caregivers to determine how long it took to receive a diagnosis of dementia. She found that the YOD participants experienced symptoms for nearly 1.6 years longer than LOD participants before receiving a diagnosis. More specifically, the average time from symptom onset to diagnosis was one year for LOD participants but anywhere from 2.6 to 4.4 years for YOD participants.

Individuals with fronto-temporal dementia had earlier diagnosis due in part to the sudden and severe symptom onset. But this group only accounted for a small number of the YOD participants. Vascular dementia also led to symptoms that accelerated diagnoses. Other factors that van Vliet looked at were gender, education, and living arrangements. She found that the younger, more educated women had the best chance of receiving early diagnoses than any other participant category. She did not, however, find that living alone or living with others influenced diagnosis time. Additionally, family history of dementia, a strong risk factor for the illness, did not lead to earlier diagnoses either. Van Vliet believes that the longer duration from symptom to diagnosis in YOD participants could be the result of subtle early symptoms going unnoticed or uncharted, a factor that should be studied in future research. Van Vliet added, “This would provide important issues to focus on when supporting patients and caregivers in the diagnostic trajectory as well as starting points to facilitate timelier diagnoses in both groups.”

Van Vliet, D., et al. (2013). Time to diagnosis in young-onset dementia as compared with late-onset dementia. Psychological Medicine 43.2 (2013): 423-32. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Celeste


    April 3rd, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    I guess that we just don’t want to have to think that this is going to happen to a young perosn. Many times they are in the prime of their lives, so you wonder how this could happen to them when they once seemed so young and vibrant. And although you don’t wish this on anyone, it is sometimes a litte easier to accept when it happens with an older person. They have had the chance to live and enjoy their lives, and yes, once dementia egins then this is taken away from them. But at least most of the time they have led a full life, but when it happens to one so young, it almost feels as if their life is being stolen from them, and that can be so sad for them and the family to accept.

  • Logan


    April 4th, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    Of course this is right. At this stage most doctors are probably looking at other environmental things such as sleep patterns or mybe even drug use that could be causing dementia symptoms.
    Many would never stop to think very early in the process that this could be something even more serious than that.

  • blingstarr


    April 4th, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    I didnt even know this could affect young ppl. Many other ppl dont either. and when ppl dont know it they are not going to get tested for it. so there goes the diagnosis part. being on guard and looking for even small problems in health is the best way I think.

  • Jonny s

    Jonny s

    April 5th, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    I am somewhat surprised to read that even in cases where there is a clear family history of dementia, this does not lead to an earlier disgnosis for someone who is young and experiencing the same symptoms. I am not a doctor, but I thought that one of the first things that they will talk to patients and families about would be family history, who has what, and look at how this could be connected to any symptoms that a patient is reportin. This is one big clue that appears is being ignored in cases such as this. We wouldn’t ignore that elevated risk if we were talking about cancer or heart disease, so why are we not looking at how mental illness follows families too?

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