The term early onset Alzheimer’s disease is used when someone has an Alzheimer's-type dementia and is under the age of 65. Early onset dementia often affects people as young as those in their 40s and 50s. People with this younger dementia can face challenges that are different from those with a late onset diagnosis — that is, after the age of 65.
One of these challenges can arrive in relation to employment: people with early onset dementia may begin to notice small difficulties when performing duties at their jobs. They may begin to forget a few things at work, confuse directions, and show frustration, irritation or anger more quickly than normal. But often, those subtle signs are ignored or attributed to family stress, the busy-ness of life, or depression. Because the onset is gradual, it’s not always recognized right away — and if so, it might not be identified as having a specific cause such as a disease.
Signs of Early Onset Dementia at Work
- Memory Difficulties
You may begin to feel the need to write almost everything down to help you remember it; perhaps you've hidden such "cheat sheets" in your desk, since you’ve noticed others don’t need them to perform their jobs.
You may feel like you're missing something, or aren't confident what project is scheduled for which day. You may also find yourself looking around to see if others appear unsure, or if it’s just you.
- Easily Overwhelmed
If anything extra is added to the day, you may feel terribly overwhelmed, and/or that it’s an impossible task. Sometimes the thought of organizing your day is exhausting because it just feels like it's too much to handle.
- Difficulty Learning New Tasks
If your company decides to use a new computer program or to shift a new type of work your way, you may struggle more than the other staff members to learn the system and the new job.
- Decreased Ability to Be Flexible
If the bosses change the structure of the day at your job, you might feel extremely anxious and upset, and have a hard time adjusting to and remembering this change. Your ability to adapt or adjust to an unexpected change may be limited.
- Occasional Word-Finding Difficulties
You may notice an increased problem with the ability to find the right word. Occasional word-finding difficulties are normal, but you might begin to experience this more frequently.
- Decreased Efficiency
You may find it’s taking you longer to get your work done. At first, you might attribute this to a heavier work load or the many distractions throughout the day. But as time goes on, you notice you’re almost always behind compared to your co-workers.
- Subtle Personality Changes
Perhaps you've always been easy-going, calm and flexible — your personality is one reason you’ve been successful in your job. Lately, however, you’ve noticed that you lose your temper more easily, and are more readily irritated. For example, you might be able to admit to yourself that you over-reacted yesterday when you yelled at your co-worker, but at the time, you felt very hurt and angry about his comment.
- Distrust or Paranoia
You may feel like someone's playing a trick on you at times: you're sure you placed that important document on the corner of your desk, and now it’s not there. You wonder if that new assistant is jealous of your position and is setting you up for failure.
- Increased Reliance on Others
You might realize that you’re having more difficulty with the tasks of your job and, consequently, delegate a bigger portion of your job to your assistant. But if she’s at home with her sick kids today, you may feel a sense of panic knowing she’s not there to help you.
- Skilled at Covering for Yourself
You may become very adept at compensating for your memory loss and deflecting difficult questions. For example, you might appear to be extremely busy so that less questions are directed your way. Or, you may turn questions around for which you're not sure of the answer by saying, "Hhhmm...What do you think about that?"
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
If several of these scenarios come a little too close for comfort to describing you, it’s important to see your physician. There are many benefits of early diagnosis in dementia, including more effective treatment and the possibility of participating in clinical trials. There are also other medical conditions that have similar symptoms, but are reversible with treatment. A complete evaluation is very important.
One other reason to pursue an evaluation if you’re showing signs of dementia is because you may be eligible for disability payments. In the United States, people may be eligible for disability payments if a physician certifies that they have a medical condition that impedes their ability to perform the duties of their job.
In early onset Alzheimer's, people who may experience difficulty at their work often retire or quit early, and don't realize they could receive disability benefits. According to the Alzheimer's Association, applying right away is recommended, since delaying the application can result in decreased benefits. For more information, visit the Social Security Administration website.
Alzheimer's Association. Checklist for Applying for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Benefits Due to Early-Onset (Younger-Onset) Alzheimer's Disease. Accessed December 28, 2012. www.alznyc.org/...for_disability_supplemental_benefits.pdf
Alzheimer's Association. Social Security Disability. Accessed December 28, 2012. http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_social_security_disability.asp
Alzheimer's Association. Younger/Early Onset Alzheimer's & Dementia. Accessed December 28, 2012. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_early_onset.asp
Alzheimer's Association. Younger-onset Alzheimer's. Accessed December 28, 2012. www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_earlyonset.pdf