More than 70,000 working-age adults in the UK are struggling with young-onset dementia, significantly higher than previously thought, new figures have suggested.
The statistics, published by the charity Dementia UK to coincide with World Alzheimer’s Month, have suggested there is a ‘hidden population’ of 70,800 people in the UK living with the condition.
This is a rise of 28,800 (or 69%) since 2014, the charity also said.
One of the most common misconceptions of dementia is that ‘it is an old person’s disease’, and it is true the vast majority of the 900,000 people in the UK with dementia are aged over 65.
However, young-onset dementia (also known as early-onset dementia), or dementia that is diagnosed in people aged under 65, does now appear either to be on the increase or being picked up more effectively.
Researchers from the Neurology and Dementia Intelligence Team at the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities analysed datasets from GP practice records in England.
Dementia and the workplace
By using an alternative method of identifying cases, they found the estimated number of people with young-onset dementia in England represented some 7.5% of all those living with a dementia diagnosis.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Dementia Care.
Dementia is classified as a disability and so employees with young-onset dementia will have protection under equality laws.
According to the NHS, symptoms of young-onset dementia can include memory problems, confusion, personality changes, language issues or visual problems.
However, the charity Alzheimer’s UK also highlights that younger people with dementia are less likely to have memory loss as one of their first symptoms. Rather, young-onset dementia may cause problems with movement, walking, co-ordination or balance.
Workers with the condition may often try to mask or hide its effects because of being worried about what it may mean for their future ability to work. There can also be significant mental health issues around the condition, from fears about the future, worries about work and money, and what it may mean for retirement income.
Dr Hilda Hayo, chief executive at Dementia UK, said: “We know that young-onset dementia is poorly recognised and misdiagnosed, which leads to delays in accessing crucial support.
“Worryingly, the figure of 70,800 adults who are estimated to be living with the condition in the UK may just be the tip of the iceberg.
“Dementia is a huge and growing health crisis and with rising numbers, it is now more urgent than ever that families receive the specialist support they need,” she added.