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My partner Chris was diagnosed at age 56 with Younger Onset Dementia.
Prior to his diagnosis he was a successful and articulate teacher. However, when his employer recognised that something was wrong and suggested that he see his doctor, our lives changed dramatically.
Fortunately, Chris and I were in a good financial situation at the time of his diagnosis as he had accrued 12 months of sick leave which he was able to use. He was also lucky to have a supportive network of work colleagues which helped our family to get through this difficult time. Although cognitive testing demonstrated that Chris had significant memory problems, he was originally diagnosed with depression. The doctor explained to us that, “we don't like to diagnose young people with Alzheimer's”.
It took a further 10 months to receive a proper diagnosis. During this time Chris was unable to access proper treatment, support or plan for his future.
This would not happen with any other disease. For these reasons it is critical that people receive a timely diagnosis of dementia and a public education plan is implemented so health professionals and the community are fully aware of the symptoms of dementia and that we can support these people instead of ignoring its impact.
Following his diagnosis, Chris had to leave his job and make significant changes to his life. However, coping with this diagnosis was difficult as the support services which he intended to access were catered for the elderly. He felt that his interaction with his peers had stopped and he was now expected to socialise with people his parent’s age.
For these reasons, services need to be flexible so they can cater for different ages and different needs.
Dementia strikes people in different ways due to where the brain has been affected, progressing at differing rates. While age is a risk factor for getting dementia, it is not an ageing problem.
Dementia is a health issue which will affect most of us as we age as a population by us either having the disease or knowing or caring for someone who has it.