The impaired balance, tremors and rigidity of Parkinson's disease are not just limited to the elderly. Worldwide, the degenerative brain disease occurs with an average onset of age 60, but roughly 10 percent of Parkinson's patients are diagnosed before age 40. An estimated one in every 20 people diagnosed with Parkinson's in the United Kingdom is younger than 40. Some clinics in Japan have reported cases of early onset Parkinson's accounting for as many as 40 percent of all their Parkinson's patients.

Parkinson's symptoms vary for everyone, and those with young onset Parkinson's disease (YOPD) tend to exhibit milder, gradual development of the illness, partially due to fewer health problems of youth in general. When detected at an earlier age, Parkinson's can be especially challenging since many young people are active in their careers, raising a family and caring for their older parents.

Eventually, a significant number of those living with Parkinson's experience dementia as deposits of microscopic proteins called Lewy bodies build up in the brain. Many people with young onset dementia are in their 40s and 50s, and initial symptoms are often missed or attributed to stress or psychological disorders. Dementia's diminished effect on memory, language and task completion in younger people also can be a result of concussions, brain injury and other neurodegenerative diseases. To pinpoint the underlying cause of dementia, a thorough evaluation with a neurologist or movement disorder specialist is imperative.

Here are ways to help your loved one live a productive and meaningful life with these degenerative brain conditions:

  • Continue enjoying regular activities and routines as much as possible.
  • Talk openly about fears and concerns with health changes.
  • Work with a capable counselor.
  • Participate together in a young onset support group.
  • Document every day and special occasions with photos and videos.
  • Consider alternative and innovative treatment options.
  • Exercise together even if it is just taking leisure walks.
  • Savour the simple pleasures in living in the present.

Right at Home in-home care providers help adults of any age adjust to movement and cognitive decline through assistance with home care services from medication monitoring to symptom-reducing exercise. A key to effective caregiving for those with these neurological brain conditions is to empower them to continue participating in their own life with as much independence as possible.

How do you think you'd respond if you were diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's disease or dementia?

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