Dispelling Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease
Separating fact from fiction is sometimes difficult when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. As a leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s affects millions of individuals and families. Lots of information is available online and in print, but it’s important to turn to trusted sources like the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institutes of Health and your own doctor to distinguish between myths and misconceptions and reality. Some common myths include the following:
- Alzheimer’s & Dementia Are the Same Disease: Dementia is characterized by impaired memory, thinking, reasoning and behavior. Alzheimer’s is so prevalent that many people call all dementias Alzheimer’s disease, but it is just one type of dementia along with others such Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia.
- Alzheimer’s is Hereditary: Certain genetic variations can be passed down from a parent. A family history of Alzheimer’s does not mean that you will have it, although it may mean you may be more likely to develop it. There are many factors that play a role in the development of the disease, including environmental and lifestyle factors like exercise, diet, exposure to pollutants and smoking. It’s important to practice healthy habits throughout your life like exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, which some studies indicate can lessen your Alzheimer’s risk.
- You Have to Be Over 65 to Get Alzheimer’s: Age is certainly a risk factor, and for most people with Alzheimer’s their symptoms first appear in their 60s and beyond. However, a small percentage of individuals may develop early-onset Alzheimer’s with symptoms appearing in their early 30s to mid-60s.
- Alzheimer’s is a Normal Part of Aging: Some forgetfulness as you age, like forgetting a name or not remembering where you put something is normal. However, not recognizing friends and family, losing track of the date or time of year and regularly making poor judgments and decisions are not normal. If you have concerns, discuss them with your health care professional, as there may be other reasons like depression or medication side effects.
- Aluminum Cause Alzheimer’s: There is no scientific evidence that aluminum cans and pots cause Alzheimer’s. Likewise with aspartame artificial sweetener, silver dental fillings and flu shots. None of these has been proven in numerous studies to be connected with developing Alzheimer’s.
- There Are No Treatments for Alzheimer’s: While there is yet no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are several medications available that can help lessen the symptoms of the disease for a limited time. An early diagnosis can help individuals with the disease learn how cope with the symptoms and continue living a meaningful life.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Is Preventable: A healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk, but there is currently no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A healthy lifestyle includes maintaining a healthy weight; staying active, mentally, physically and socially; preventing head injuries; managing stress; and getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- At-home Genetic Tests Can Diagnose the Disease: Genetic tests can identify certain variants that increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but they cannot diagnose the disease, and any variants identified do not mean the person will definitely develop the disease. Your doctor can advise you if taking a test is right for you.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to recognize the signs and speak with you doctor if you have any concerns.
Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.
National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health: www.nia.nih.gov
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email email@example.com. Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column.