59-year-old’s ‘stress’ turned out to be Alzheimer’s disease

Frontotemporal dementia symptoms include 'changes in personality'

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Dementia symptoms can be extremely subtle and vague at the outset, making them hard to pick up. They also vary significantly from one case to another, but a great number of patients have one symptom in common. Aside from memory loss, recurring bouts of anxiety are frequently described in the months or years leading up to a diagnosis. Often, however, stress is attributed to other causes.

Individuals in their 70s or 80s who start experiencing memory loss should be reasonably concerned that they have some form of dementia, but even people in younger age groups can become affected.

Young-onset dementia is relatively uncommon, but it still affects an estimated 70,800 adults in the UK, according to Dementia UK.

Most of these patients are formally diagnosed in their 50s and 60s, but individuals as young as 30 can develop cognitive decline.

Jude Thorp, a former employee at The National Theatre, was in her fifties when she first started noticing changes in her cognitive abilities.

“I was not really playing my best game the last time I was at The National,” she said.

“It was a really simple show, I could do it standing on my head and I was anxious and I didn’t know where I was. I was just very disorientated.”

During her first medical check-up, Jude said her symptoms were dismissed and attributed to stress, which she described as “humiliating”.

One of the first consultants Jude saw said that she may have experienced stress due to having too much going on in her life.

“Imagine, you know, just being told that you’re a bit daft”, she said.

“That was my first time going to the doctor for something serious in my life and it was horrendous, and afterwards they said there’s nothing wrong with me.”

Jude was eventually diagnosed with young-onset dementia in January 2021, a year after her first appointment.

“It was devastating because I didn’t know what it meant and what was going to happen. I think I put my life on hold for a while,” she noted.

Doctor Emer McSweeney, a leading London neuro-radiologist at Re:Cognition Health, explained that people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer’s Disease frequently admit to having unexplained anxiety when questioned.

The expert noted: “[They] frequently admit to having experienced unexplained anxiety and subtle symptoms of short-term memory loss 18 months to two years before their cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s became more apparent.”

She continued: “It is important to recognise that people aged 60+, who develop anxiety for the first time, with no obvious reason could be showing an early feature of Alzheimer’s.

“This is separate from the natural anxiety that accompanies an individual’s concern that they seem to be forgetting things.”

In addition, anxiety will also negatively impact memory causing symptoms like acute stage fright.

“Therefore, the findings of disproportionate feelings of anxiety or anxiety for no apparent reason, when accompanied by early symptoms of show term memory loss, should lead to the possibility of early AD,” noted Dr McSweeney.

While Jude initially struggled to come to terms with her diagnosis, she explained it has helped some aspects of her life blossom, like her passion for swimming.

Soon after her diagnosis, Jude completed a charity swim, raising £4,000 for Alzheimer’s Society.

Her family have since received tailored support and advice to help them cope with the challenges of living with dementia.

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