Early-Onset Dementia Diagnoses Are Up 200% — How (& When) To Protect Your Brain
When an individual is diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65, it's classified as early-onset dementia, aka young-onset dementia. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is also defined as early-onset or young-onset Alzheimer's disease when it's diagnosed before the age of 65. (For the sake of clarity, I will refer to both forms collectively as "early-onset dementia" throughout this article.)
Shockingly, the number of cases of early-onset dementia has increased exponentially over the past few years—and genetics aren't at play as much as you may think.
Why are early-onset dementia cases increasing?
According to data from the 2017 BCBS health index, the number of commercially insured U.S. adults between the ages of 30 and 64 diagnosed with early-onset dementia increased 200% from 2013 to 2017.
After breaking down the data into demographics, researchers found that the highest increase of diagnoses occurred in younger ages:
- There was a 373% increase in early-onset dementia diagnoses in ages 30 to 44.
- American adults aged 45 to 54 saw a 311% in early-onset dementia diagnoses.
While population growth and aging baby boomers are often touted as the main cause of increasing dementia diagnoses, these shocking statistics show that age isn't the defining factor of dementia cases. Indeed, dementia is cropping up in younger demographics— just look at this recent case study of a 19-year-old Chinese male with a probable Alzheimer's diagnosis.
What's even more devastating is that despite a younger diagnosis, mortality and survival rates do not seem to differ drastically for younger patients: A 2018 Dutch study from the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry concluded that the median survival rate for dementia is only six years, regardless of the age diagnosed, stating, "neurodegenerative diseases causing dementia are lethal, especially in young-onset patients."
Signs of early-onset dementia.
Unsurprisingly, early-onset dementia diagnoses can be difficult for doctors to spot unless the patient has a genetic predisposition to dementia or Alzheimer's disease. As such, misdiagnoses are common.
Like all forms of dementia, early intervention is key for optimal treatment of young-onset dementia—here are some signs to look out for:
- Struggling with depth perception
- Having trouble recognizing faces
- Difficulty coming up with specific words in conversation or general speech impairment
- Asking for repeated information or forgetting important things
- Misplacing items and not being able to retrace steps to find them
- Withdrawal from social situations and/or work
- Difficulty with movement—such as walking, balance, and other forms of coordination
- Changes in behavior, vision, language, or personality
Interestingly, unlike late-onset dementia, memory loss is rarely seen as an early symptom of young-onset dementia.
How to prevent early-onset dementia.
The biggest cause of early-onset dementia is genetics. According to a 2020 review from the Lancet, excessive alcohol usage and traumatic brain injury1 (TBI) are two major risk factors for early-onset dementia as well.
Though you can't change your genetics, there are a number of things you can do to prevent your risk of developing dementia (both early-onset and late-onset). Monitoring your alcohol intake and protecting your brain from TBI (i.e., by wearing a helmet during contact sports and a seat belt in the car) are a good place to start.
Eating brain-healthy foods, getting adequate restful sleep, and supporting optimal cognitive function via high-quality supplementation (e.g., taking a daily supplement with citicoline, a neuronutrient that has been clinically shown to improve cognitive impairment) can further bolster your brain longevity.
Protecting your brain as early as possible in your life span is more important today than ever before. Thankfully, taking extra measures to support cognitive well-being can help reduce the risk of dementia, no matter your age or genetic makeup.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.