Young-onset dementia

What is young-onset dementia?

Learn more about young-onset dementia

People with dementia whose symptoms started before they were 65 are often described as 'younger people with dementia' or as having young-onset dementia. The age of 65 is used because it is the age at which people traditionally retired. However, this is an artificial cut-off point as opposed to having any biological significance.

Early-onset dementia is caused by broadly similar diseases to dementia in older people ('late-onset dementia'), but there are some important differences. There is a wider range of diseases that cause young-onset dementia and a younger person is much more likely to have a rarer form of dementia.

Young-onset dementia is also more likely to cause problems with movement, walking, co-ordination or balance. This is one reason why younger people with dementia may see a neurologist (a specialist in diseases of the brain and nervous system) rather than - or as well as - a psychiatrist (a specialist in mental health).

However, people under 65 do not generally have the co-existing long-term medical conditions of older people - especially diseases of the heart and circulation. They are usually physically fitter and dementia may be the only serious condition that a younger person is living with.

Early-onset dementia is more likely than late-onset dementia to be hereditary. In perhaps 10 per cent of all people with young-onset dementia the condition seems to have been inherited from a parent. If dementia has been inherited, the diagnosis may have implications for birth relatives of the person such as their siblings (brothers and sisters) or children.