A man holds a woman's hand. He appears to be checking on her wellbeing.
New study highlights the urgency for better dementia treatments and effective prevention strategies. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Your age doesn’t determine how long you’ll live after a dementia diagnosis, new research contends.

“These findings suggest that, despite all efforts, and despite being younger and perhaps physically ‘healthier’ than older people, survival time in people with young-onset dementia has not improved since 2000,” said study author Dr. Hanneke Rhodius-Meester, from VU University Medical Center, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Our Take

Spectrum Health’s Iris Boettcher, MD, has seen positive changes in the realm of dementia treatment in the past few decades—new studies, valuable findings, useful advice.

Awareness, however, is one aspect that still needs some work.

“There is a lot of undiagnosed dementia,” she said. “People just attribute it to old age.”

“Once you have a diagnosis, you can then understand that it is a disease—as opposed to attributing it to people just being stubborn or writing it off as old age.”

Luckily, there’s more and more support in the community for people with dementia.

“Grand Rapids in particular has a campaign going on around becoming a dementia-friendly community,” Dr. Boettcher said.

That campaign, Rethinking Dementia, teaches people how to interact with those who have dementia.

“There are simple things you can do,” she said. “One is just recognizing that someone may be having trouble. There are opportunities for people to learn. You don’t have to be clinical—it’s just good citizenship, learning how to work with people who have dementia.”

For the study, Dutch researchers looked at nearly 4,500 people with early onset dementia. Median survival time was six years, but it varied depending on the type of dementia: 6.4 years for frontotemporal lobe degeneration; 6.2 years for Alzheimer’s disease; 5.7 years for vascular dementia; 5.1 years for dementia with Lewy bodies; and 3.6 years for rarer causes of dementia.

But survival times were similar among patients of all ages, whether they were younger or older than 65, the investigators found.

Previous research had suggested survival times after dementia diagnosis ranged between three and 12 years.

The latest findings were to be presented Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“While these results still need to be replicated and confirmed, they do highlight the urgency of the need for better treatments and effective prevention strategies,” Rhodius-Meester said in a meeting news release.