How to Know If You Have Early Onset Alzheimer's

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 younger-onset dementia can face challenges that are different from those with a late onset diagnosis—that is, after the age of 65.

A worried businessman at his desk
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One of these challenges can develop 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.

Often, these subtle signs are initially ignored or attributed to family stress, the busyness 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. However, early detection of cognitive impairment can help determine the cause and trigger earlier treatment.

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 workload 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. While these scenarios could be possible, they might not be accurate.

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.

If you do receive a diagnosis of dementia, 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 and other types of dementia such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, or vascular dementia, 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 those with early-onset Alzheimer's and related dementias are often initially denied benefits, though they usually win on appeal. For more information, visit the Social Security Administration website.

In addition to disability payments from the Social Security Disability Insurance program, your employer might also have disability insurance as one of their benefits. Be sure to speak with the benefits coordinator to learn what benefits you are eligible to receive.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that while these symptoms might indicate a more serious problem with your cognition, they also are very common in people who are fatigued, stressed, over-committed at work and in life, and distracted by the challenges that may be occurring in your life outside of work.

Set a goal to take one step at a time to improve your self-care and make a note in your calendar of that goal. Be sure to regularly re-evaluate your cognitive functioning and emotional health, as well as to call your physician to schedule an evaluation.

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Article Sources
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  1. Alzheimer's Association. Younger/Early-Onset Alzheimer's.

  2. National Institute on Aging. How Is Alzheimer's Disease Treated? Reviewed April 01, 2018.

  3. Alzheimer's Association. 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's

  4. Alzheimer's Association. Suspicions and Delusions.

  5. Alzheimer's Association. What Is Dementia?

  6. Alzheimer's Association. Social Security Disability.

  7. Social Security. Disability Benefits.

Additional Reading
  • Alzheimer's Association. If You Have Younger-onset Alzheimer's Disease.

  • Alzheimer's Association. Social Security Disability.

  • Alzheimer's Association. Younger/Early Onset Alzheimer's & Dementia.

  • Alzheimer's Association. Checklist for Applying for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Benefits Due to Early-Onset (Younger-Onset) Alzheimer's Disease.