Causes of Early Dementia Broken Down
> 4/16/2008 2:55:33 PM

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia, but there are many other ways that a brain can degenerate. Patients are often tragically surprised to learn that a diverse group of early-onset dementias can cloud young and vibrant minds. This surprise is not the result of doctors failing to educate the public, as both the medical community and the general public are less informed about early-onset dementia than about Alzheimer's. This knowledge gap was partially closed this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, where Dr. Brendan Kelley gave an illuminating talk on the subject.
Dr. Kelly sifted through ten years of records for patients at the Mayo Clinic in search of dementia cases among those 17-45 years old. He found 235 patients that met this criteria, and was able to break their cases down into six categories to make analysis easier. Alzheimer's can strike the young on occasion, but it was responsible for less than one percent of these cases.

The categories, in order of highest to lowest prevalence, are: neurodegenerative (29.8 percent), autoimmune-inflammatory (21.2 percent), unknown (18.7 percent),  frontotemporal dementia (13.2 percent), congenital metabolic abnormalities (10.6 percent), and Alzheimer's disease (negligible).

These proportions are valuable because they give doctors a guideline for what to investigate first, and they give researchers an idea of where to focus their studies. The connection between cognitive impairment and autoimmune diseases like lupus may yield insight into both problems. The fact that doctors could not determine a cause in 18.7% of cases despite extensive investigation may indicate that there are even more forms of early-onset dementia that have yet to be discovered. Hopefully, both doctors and patients will be less bewildered in the future when they encounter memory and comprehension problems in those with youthful bodies.

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