Early signs of an age-related disease, like cognitive decline, can be hard to spot, unlike cardiovascular disease or other primarily physical conditions like diabetes. But the problem can be particularly difficult to identify when it begins to progress at a younger age, especially since it can often be mistaken for other problems. Sadly, that was the case with a 59-year-old woman in the UK who was recently diagnosed with dementia after doctors first characterized her symptoms as stress. Read on to see how she first noticed the disease and what she’s up to now.
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A woman diagnosed with dementia in her 50s says doctors initially dismissed her symptoms as stress.
The pressures of everyday life can sometimes interfere with our mental clarity and well-being. But for Jude Thorpa 59-year-old mother of two living in Oxford, England, it became apparent that something was seriously wrong when she began to notice a change in her ability at work, The Independent reports.
After years of experience in a theatrical career, Thorp found that she had more difficulty completing simple tasks or concentrating on her work. She soon noticed that she was also repeating questions, forgetting important conversations, feeling tired and having difficulty finding the right words during conversations.
Despite the changes, Thorp did not see a doctor until his wife convinced her to make an appointment with a specialist in November 2016. But during the exam, she said her doctors quickly eliminated her symptoms due to stress and said “she had too much going on” in her life.
“Imagine, you know, being just told you’re kinda dumb,” she said The Independent, describing it as a “humiliating” experience. “It was the first time I went to the doctor for something serious in my life, and it was horrible, and after that they said there was nothing wrong with me.”
Thorp was eventually diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
Despite her early experiences, Thorp says she continued to see different specialists over the next few years. But it wasn’t until doctors performed a lumbar puncture and she underwent an MRI that she was finally diagnosed with dementia praecox caused by Alzheimer’s disease in January 2021, The Independent reports.
Dementia praecox is the term used to describe anyone under the age of 65 who begins to show signs of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the health organization says 5-6% of people with the disease develop it in middle age, meaning there could be between 300,000 and 360,000 people in the United States living with the disease.
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Doctors say dementia praecox has multiple causes, but can be difficult to detect or diagnose.
Dementia praecox can be caused by a number of conditions, including frontotemporal dementia (FTD), vascular dementia, or dementia with Lewy bodies, according to the Alzheimer Society. However, the foundation says atypical Alzheimer’s disease is the most likely cause for anyone who begins to experience their first symptoms between their 30s and 60s.
Different forms of the condition can manifest with different sets of signs. They include posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), which can make it difficult to interpret visual information such as reading a sentence or judging distances; logopenic aphasia, which can make it difficult to find the right words when speaking or make long pauses in the middle of a sentence; and dysexecutive Alzheimer’s disease which can make planning more difficult and lead to inappropriate behavior in social situations, according to the Alzheimer Society.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify these problems as dementia praecox in middle-aged people. “Complaints about brain fog in young patients are very common and mostly benign,” David S. KnopmanMD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said The New York Times in an interview. “It’s hard to know when they’re not attributable to stress, depression, anxiety, or the result of normal aging. Even neurologists rarely see patients with early-onset dementia.”
Getting the right diagnosis can help you treat and manage early dementia.
Despite the difficulties in identifying it, the correct diagnosis of dementia praecox can be absolutely vital. Along with being able to rule out any other treatable causes for the symptoms, knowing what they are dealing with can help someone get the proper care and planning so they can focus on improving their quality of life, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For Thorp, the diagnosis initially felt like a heavy burden, especially when she had to break the news to her two young daughters. But she said the process ultimately brought her to a better place. “You have to grieve, you have to be mad or angry or upset. I mean, that’s part of grieving something, isn’t it? But for me, I’m so lucky to have this diagnosis because I can still live well with it,” she said. The Independent.
Since identifying her dementia, Thorp has been connected to support groups and has found new fulfillment in charity work and raising awareness of the disease. “I think accepting a diagnosis of anything allows you to thrive in some way. And I think it’s really important that life can be rich,” she said. “I think it’s about living your best life and doing what you can.”
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