The burgeoning interest in young onset dementia: redressing the balance or reinforcing ageism?

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Edward Tolhurst

Abstract

Critical evaluation is undertaken of social scientific conceptualisations of dementia in relation to ageing. In response to the societal tendency to associate dementia with old age, there is a growing body of literature that seeks to explicate the particular challenges faced by younger people with the condition. While recognition of the distinctive impacts presented by dementia at different ages is crucial, an age-related conceptual model that focuses on a lifecourse divide at age 65 is problematic: it promulgates a sense that younger people with dementia have ‘‘unique’’ experiences, while dementia for older people is typical. This also reflects a societal ageism, under which concerns are focused on those situated within ‘‘productive adulthood.’’ Moreover, a straightforward chronological marker cannot adequately represent a social world shaped by significant demographic changes. A more textured appreciation of ageing and dementia is required to help articulate how distinctive experiences emerge across the lifecourse.

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