What is young onset dementia?

Dementia is caused by different diseases that damage the brain and lead to a progressive decline in a person’s ability to think, reason, communicate and remember. Their personality, behaviour and mood can also be affected. Everyone’s experience of dementia is unique – symptoms and the progression of the condition varies.  

Dementia is described as ‘young onset’ when symptoms develop before the age of 65, usually between 30 to 65 years of age. It is also referred to as ‘early onset’ or ‘working age’ dementia, but these terms can cause confusion. ‘Early onset’ can be interpreted as the early stages of dementia and is applicable to people of any age and ‘working age’ is now less defined as retirement age is more flexible.  

Dementia is wrongly considered an old-age condition and the early symptoms of young onset dementia are not always recognised. They may be attributed to other causes which can lead to a significant delay (on average four years) in getting a diagnosis and access to appropriate support. This can have a negative impact not just on the person with dementia’s life but also the whole family.  

What are the differences between young and late onset dementia?  

When compared to older people, younger people affected by dementia are more likely to:  

  • have a rarer form of dementia affecting behaviour and social functioning 
  • have a familial/inherited form of dementia 
  • experience employment issues 
  • have significant financial commitments such as a mortgage 
  • have younger and more dependent children 
  • have additional caring responsibility for parents  
  • report significantly higher psychological and physical distress  

In addition, there are differences in the types of dementia commonly diagnosed in younger people compared to those of an older age. For example, only about a third of dementias diagnosed in younger people are of the Alzheimer’s type in comparison to about 60% in the older age group. For more information visit our facts and figures page.

Symptoms may not be memory-related 

The early symptoms of young onset dementia may not be memory loss. Symptoms can differ from one person to another depending on the type of dementia a person has, and which parts of the brain it affects. 

Dementias affecting the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are more common in younger people so it is more likely that the early symptoms may include changes in:  

  • personality and behaviour 
  • language 
  • social functioning 
  • relationships with others 
  • activities of everyday living 
  • motivation 
  • mood eg depression, anxiety 
  • concentration levels 
  • decision making and problem solving 
  • vision and spatial awareness 

 Dementia UK’s leaflet ‘Young onset dementia: different symptoms’ gives more detailed information.

Young onset dementia support  

The Young Dementia Network is an online influencing community and does not provide support. For information about organisations who offer young onset dementia-specific services and support, click here.    

You may also find the Dementia UK ‘About young onset dementia’ leaflet useful.