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Mayo Clinic Study Identifies Potential Causes of Young-Onset Dementia
Date:4/15/2008

ROCHESTER, Minn., April 15, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new Mayo Clinic study found that young-onset dementia often is caused by neurodegenerative or autoimmune/inflammatory conditions, but only rarely by Alzheimer's disease. This differs substantially from the common causes of dementia in older individuals (Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative dementias). These findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Chicago on April 15.

Dementia represents a progressive decline in a person's cognitive function that affects the ability to think, speak, reason, remember and move. The most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Approximately 12 in 100,000 people may develop dementia prior to age 45, called young-onset dementia.

"After seeing several patients in their 20s who had graduated from college and were suddenly experiencing severe dementia, I wanted to try to provide answers as to what was causing dementia at such young ages," says Brendan Kelley, M.D., an author of this study and a neurologist at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Kelley and a team of Mayo Clinic physicians set out to identify the characteristics and causes of dementia prior to age 45. They identified 235 individuals, ages 17 to 45, who previously had normal cognitive function and were evaluated for progressive cognitive decline at Mayo Clinic from 1996 to 2006. In one-third of patients, the dementia was caused by a neurodegenerative disorder such as frontotemporal dementia, Huntington's disease or familial prion disease. However, Alzheimer's disease was an uncommon cause. In 20 percent of patients, young-onset dementia was caused by autoimmune or inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis, autoimmune encephalopathy or neuropsychiatric lupus. According to Dr. Kelley, this is an important finding, because many of these diseases may have specific treatments.

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