For years, you will likely have woken up to Fiona Phillips as the host of the ITV breakfast show GMTV.
You may also have recently read that the TV star has been open about being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of just 61.
Data from the Alzheimer’s Society shows there are currently around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK. This number is projected to rise to 1.6 million people by 2040.
Moreover, 209,600 people will develop dementia this year – equivalent to one every three minutes.
In addition, there are more than 42,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 with dementia. This is known as “young-onset dementia”.
With the number of people affected by the condition set to rise, read on to find out more about what dementia is, symptoms you can look out for, and how Critical Illness cover can provide valuable support if you’re diagnosed.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease explained
Dementia is a group of symptoms and is caused by different diseases that damage the brain. The symptoms get worse over time and include:
- Changes in your behaviour
- Memory loss
- Problems with language and understanding
- Needing assistance with common daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, and around 2 out of 3 people living with dementia in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease, often simply known as “Alzheimer’s”.
An important point to note is that, while the number of people living with Alzheimer’s is projected to rise by more than 75% by 2040, the risk of getting Alzheimer’s before the age of 65 is low.
Once you get above 65 your risk of getting dementia doubles every five years. The Telegraph reports that 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 is affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia, while in people aged over 80, the risk shoots up to 1 in 6.
The symptoms to look out for
Sometimes the symptoms of dementia can be hard to spot. As Barbara Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge, says: “Some people just don’t have very good memories to begin with, so it makes it hard to tell if it’s getting worse.”
Experts say the key factor here is a “considerable change”.
A common feature of early-onset dementia is “episodic memory loss” where you start to lose things more easily. A classic example of episodic memory loss, according to the professor, could be struggling to recall where you parked your car in a multi-storey car park.
Difficulty in learning new things is another indicator, as are “word recall” and taking longer to find a quick response to a question.
Reduced vision and difficulties with decision-making and planning are also typical symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
When it comes to suffering from “brain fog”, this is harder to pin down. However, especially at a younger age, experts say that brain fog is drastically more likely to be a symptom of your mental health or your hormones than it is an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s.
Tim Beanland, head of knowledge at Alzheimer’s Society, says: “There are lots of other things that will cause brain fog like the menopause, anxiety, depression and long Covid. It may be that you need thyroid pills because your thyroid is low, or your iron. Don’t turn up at the GP and say ‘I think I’ve got Alzheimer’s’ – tell them about your symptoms, and the GP should run tests.”
Furthermore, there is crossover between the symptoms some women experience during menopause and those associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s. These are typically anxiety and memory loss.
Going back to “considerable change” – if you have noticed that there has been a significant change then you should contact your GP and explain your symptoms. Experts suggest seeking advice if you feel there is something amiss.
“If it’s affecting your daily life, if it’s getting you really down, if people are commenting on it, go see the GP,” says Beanland.
Tests for young-onset dementia are similar to those for any form of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Your GP will:
- Take a clinical history
- Ask what symptoms you have – when did they start? How are they affecting you?
- Take a family history
- Do a cognitive test where they’ll ask you to do some simple memory tests and some pen and paper tests.
- Take some blood to check whether you have thyroid problems or vitamin problems.
Depending on the result of these tests, you may then have to have either a CT or MRI scan. And, because early-onset is more difficult to diagnose, a lumbar puncture (where spinal fluid is taken and tested) is also a common step in younger patients.
Is there a cure for dementia?
No – there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease or any other type of dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society report that there are 143 drugs in trials for Alzheimer's disease, with 117 of them aiming to slow down the progression of the disease.
Do Critical Illness policies cover dementia?
Dementia can be a debilitating condition, particularly if you’re one of the thousands of people who are diagnosed with early-onset dementia each year.
If you receive a dementia diagnosis, you may find you need additional care, or you may have to give up work. Loved ones may also have to provide more care around the home.
In this situation, having financial support available could be hugely valuable. It could enable you to stay in your home, for your family to reduce their working hours, or to pay for specialist care.
Critical Illness cover can provide this support – and dementia is one of many conditions that insurers typically cover.
If you have a Critical Illness policy in place, you’ll normally qualify for a full payout if your dementia has been diagnosed by a neurologist, psychiatrist or geriatrician. Generally, there must be permanent loss of the ability to do all of the below:
- Perceive, understand, express, and give effect to ideas.
Leading insurers will always cover dementia – with certain specific conditions – under their Critical Illness protection alongside other degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and motor neurone disease (MND).
So, you can have the peace of mind that, if you were to be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s during the term of your Critical Illness protection, your insurer would likely pay your claim – as long as you met their threshold for a claim.
A quick note on trusts
Ordinarily, you might not want to put a Critical Illness policy in trust as you will want to retain control of the funds on the event of a payout.
However, dementia can prevent you from making certain key decisions. Therefore, if you think Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is a real possibility, you could consider putting your Critical Illness cover in a trust.
If you do so, and you are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the insurer will pay the proceeds to someone you trust to act in your best interests.
Get in touch
As Critical Illness cover experts, we can help you to put the right protection in place.
We work with the UK’s leading insurers – the likes of Aviva, Legal & General and Royal London – all insurers who cover dementia under the terms of their policy.
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