Wait…did you mean Early Onset or Early Stage?

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Yep, there’s a difference between these two phrases and we need to make sure we’re using the correct one!

I get asked about terminology in geriatrics probably more than I get asked about anything else. “What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?” “Wait, what’s dementia mean?” “What’s MCI?” “What’s early onset?” I hear these questions a lot, and it’s important to know the answers!

Early Onset = Before age 65 (or around the age of 65)

Early Stage = In the earlier stages of the disease process

See the difference? Early-onset dementia is actually pretty rare. Sometimes we hear it called “younger onset,” which is a less-confusing term. 

You can have early onset and be in an early stage at the same time, but you can’t call a person who has an advanced stage of dementia at age 64 “early stage.” Does that make sense?

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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