Early-Onset Dementia is Surging, Recent Study Finds

Q. My sister, Abigail, is 45 and complains of memory loss. She often repeats herself, asking the same questions over and over again and has trouble coming up with desired words in a conversation. The last time I visited her at her home, she was confused about what day it was. I can understand that, as it’s happened to me a lot since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. What I am concerned about though is the stack of bills I found that she has forgotten to pay. One more week and they would have turned off her water and stopped taking her trash. Could someone who is middle-aged like my sister have dementia or another form of Alzheimer’s already? She and I are both very concerned. Is there a reliable online option to check, before she makes an appointment with a doctor? Thanks for your help!

A. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, learning and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with daily life and activities. Dementia typically begins with mild memory loss, eventually progressing to the point where victims can no longer hold a conversation or respond to their environments. As many of us are aware, dementia has traditionally been considered a concern for older generations, typically beginning after the age of 65. But according to a new study by the National Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), recent spikes have been found in early onset dementia (under age 65) in Americans as young as 30!

According to the BCBSA study, diagnoses of early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s disease across the country have notably increased in recent years. The findings came from a new BCBSA report, “Early-Onset Dementia and Alzheimer’s Rates Grow for Younger Americans.” The report is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s “The Health of America Report®” series. Findings are as follows:

The number diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia increased a whopping 373% among 30- to 44-year-olds, 311% among 45- to 54-year-olds and 143% among 55- to 64-year-olds from 2013 to 2017.
Across those groups, the average age of a person living with dementia is 49.
Rates of diagnosis were higher in the East, the South, and parts of the Midwest, while western states showed lower rates of diagnosis. The report contains a map denoting the number of cases of early-onset dementia by state.
These conditions are more common in women, who make up 58% of those diagnosed.
An increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses among younger generations can lead to even greater economic consequences and mental stress for those that provide them care. Currently, almost 16 million people provide more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care to a family member or friend with Alzheimer’s disease in America – an estimated price tag of $221 billion. These added caregiving responsibilities are felt particularly by women who make up 63% of this caregiving subset.

“The results of this report are concerning, especially the increase in early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease among younger people,” said Dr. Richard Snyder, chief medical officer and executive vice president of Facilitated Health Networks for Independence Blue Cross. “While the underlying cause is not clear, advances in technology are certainly allowing for earlier and more definitive diagnosis. Regardless, those who develop dementia or Alzheimer’s at an early age will likely require caregiving, either from family members or healthcare providers. The time, cost, and impact on families can be significant and can require additional support as these diseases progress.”

What’s Normal Forgetfulness and What’s Not?

As you can see, more younger people are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But some memory loss can be the result of other things and may have nothing to do with dementia. What’s the difference between normal forgetfulness and a serious memory problem? According to the National Institute of Health, serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things such as driving and shopping. Signs may include:

Asking the same questions over and over again;
Getting lost in familiar places;
Not being able to follow instructions;
Becoming confused about time, people, and places;
Losing things often and being unable to find them;
Forgetting to go to important events or appointments;
Having more trouble coming up with desired words than other people of the same age;
Making poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time;
Problems taking care of monthly bills.

According to the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, normal forgetfulness can include:

Absentmindedness, which can occur when you aren’t paying close attention to the activity at hand;
Occasionally forgetting where you placed things;
Forgetting facts over time. Similar to computers, our brains need to purge old data to make room for new;
A “tip of the tongue” memory slip that you remember later.

Sometimes, memory difficulties are the result of a treatable condition, such as vitamin deficiency or thyroid disease. Other times, they are a warning sign of a neurological disorder, such as Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Either way, if you’re concerned about memory chyanges, you should consider seeing a doctor annually (or even twice a year) to see if you have any changes in memory and other thinking skills over time. There may be things you can do to maintain your memory and mental skills. Please see today’s Critter Cornertoday’s Critter Corner for more details!

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Offers Free Virtual Dementia Testing

Though there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis can result in better patient outcomes through the use of medications and participation in clinical trials. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is encouraging U.S. residents to make an appointment for a free, confidential memory screening offered through a secure video conference.

While memory screenings can’t provide a diagnosis, they can alert a person to a potential issue that should be evaluated by a physician. A memory screening consists of questions that measure memory, language, thinking skills and other intellectual functions. It only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. The process and results are confidential.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation is offering these free virtual screenings every Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are no minimum age or insurance requirements. Appointments can be made by calling (866) 232-8484.

Participants won’t be given a diagnosis but may be told they should have a doctor do a more thorough evaluation.

Do You or a Loved One Have Dementia? — The Time to Plan is Now!

Persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If you or a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435 
Elder Care Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care Attorney DC: 202-587-2797
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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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