11 May 18 Myths About Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a complex and confusing condition, so it’s no wonder there are many misconceptions about it. We debunk and clarify the most common ones here.
Dementia is a crisis that many older adults and their loved ones are dealing with currently. Millions more are going to face this challenge in the future. The number of older adults with dementia doubles for each 5 additional life years after turning 65. The healthcare system faces a variety of different dementia types that require care. It is important that people can recognize the signs and symptoms of dementia.
Dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, dementia references a group of symptoms found in diseases that impact the brain. There are many myths out there regarding dementia. This creates misconceptions about this group of conditions by society. In order to better understand dementia, these misconceptions must be addressed. By addressing the myths of dementia, we can not only facilitate a better understanding of this disease that affects millions, but we can also eliminate stereotypes that persist.
18 dementia myths clarified
Below we discuss the most common myths surrounding dementia.
Myth #1: A parent had dementia, so I am doomed to get it too
Dementia runs in the family only in rare cases. In Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, 99 out of 100 cases are not inherited from a parent. Vascular dementia is another case in which there does not appear to be a link between genetics and inheriting dementia. In vascular dementia, what can be inherited are the underlying factors that lead to this type of dementia, such as high blood pressure. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) appears to have the strongest link between genetics and disease connection. However, it is also the rarest type of dementia to speak of.
Myth #2: Dementia only affects seniors
Dementia and related diseases are degenerative and progressive diseases of the brain. While it most often occurs in people over the age of 65, it can affect younger individuals in their 40s and 50s as well. This is referred to as younger-onset dementia, or early onset. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of early-onset dementia noted. For example, there are over 5 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s, and around 200,000 of those with Alzheimer’s are younger than 65. Also, while hereditary factors are not a major link in dementia as previously discussed, the hereditary links that do exist are more common in these younger adult cases of dementia.
Myth #3: When you are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it means your life is over
For those diagnosed with the disease, many can live a full life and be active and engaged for many years. Older adults can do activities that challenge the brain and help slow the disease’s progression. See these activities that can engage dementia patients right at home. Plus, eating a diet that promotes heart health, regular exercise, and being connected and engaged socially also can help keep the disease at bay for a time. Medications are also an option for some cases, especially during the early stages of the disease. For this reason and others, early detection and diagnosis are critically important.
Myth #4: A cure exists for dementia
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia. However, many adults can help manage their symptoms and improve quality of life through intervention. For example, medications, engagement, and early diagnosis can all contribute to slowing the progression and improving the outlook for those afflicted with the disease.
Myth #5: A loss of memory means that I have dementia
This is not necessarily the case. Many individuals may experience trouble with their memory as they age. However, if memory loss impacts your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, communication, or is accompanied by a decrease in your ability to reason or judgement, you should talk to your doctor immediately.
Myth #6: Dementia is not fatal
Dementia will eventually kill all people that it affects. It destroys brain cells and creates memory changes, loss of bodily functions, unpredictable behaviors, and. Slowly and painfully, dementia will take away a person’s life. It robs them of their identity, everyday abilities like eating, walking, talking, and thinking, and ability to connect with others.
Myth #7: Aluminum exposure causes dementia
Aluminum has been a source of investigation for over 40 years as a substance that could be linked to dementia. The suspicion that started in the 60s and 70s led to concerns about aluminum exposure. These come from everyday sources like beverage and food cans, pots and pans, and other packaging. However, there have been many conflicting findings. Studies have not provided strong evidence of aluminum being a risk factor for the development of dementia. Therefore, with evidence linking aluminum to dementia being weak, at best, we can classify aluminum exposure causing dementia as a myth.Therefore, experts focus their attention on other dementia links, and most don’t see aluminum as a real threat.
Myth #8: Dementia can be prevented
The reality with dementia is that no single treatment can prevent it. As we previously indicated, exercising your mind and body, eating a nutritious diet, staying socially engaged and active, and minimizing stress could all help reduce your risk. A surprising link to dementia has also been found in those with hearing loss.
Myth #9: Amalgam dental fillings raise your risk of dementia
Despite this theory, there has been no proven link between amalgam (silver) dental fillings and dementia. Concerns arose because these fillings are made of an amalgam mixture that generally contains about 50 percent mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal that, in some forms, is known to be toxic in the body to the brain and other organs.
Public health experts and agencies around the world continue to support the use of amalgam as a safe material for dental work.
Myth #10: Taking supplements can prevent dementia.
There have been various studies on different vitamins when it comes to preventing dementia. Examples include vitamin B, C, E, gingko biloba, selenium, and folate, among others. The findings have been inconclusive. Unfortunately, many vitamin and supplement producers help promote claims about supplements reducing dementia risk. They can freely post claims on their products that foster these beliefs, without FDA approval. They just need a disclaimer listed that the FDA has not evaluated the claims being made. Therefore, it is common to see supplement producers fueling claims like these, and others, with their products.
Myth #11: Memory loss is naturally a part of aging
As individuals get older, it’s normal to have memory problems from time to time. However, dementia and associated diseases is more than memory loss on occasion. The disease causes brain cells to fail and ultimately die. When this occurs, an older adult may forget the name of a family member or how to navigate home to somewhere they’ve lived for years.
It can prove challenging to tell the difference between routine memory concerns from memory concerns that should be a cause for alarm. If you worry that you may have memory problems or other problems with learning and thinking that concern you, reach out to your physician. At times, the problems may be caused by side effects of medications, certain vitamin deficiencies, or other conditions. If it is one of these scenarios, it can be reversed with treatment.
Myth #12: Aspartame causes memory loss
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996, it has been commonly used in a variety of foods and beverages since then. Concerns have been raised about aspartame’s health effects since that time.
Per the FDA, the agency had not seen any scientific evidence that would lead to changing its conclusions on the safety of aspartame for consumption. The FDA bases its conclusions on dozens of laboratory and clinical studies.
Myth #13: Flu shots increase dementia risk
The theory that has linked flu shots to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease stemmed from an individual doctor who later had his license suspended. More research needs to be done, but some studies have actually shown the opposite. These mainstream studies have linked flu shots and other vaccinations to a lower risk of dementia and related conditions.
Myth #14: Adults with dementia are unaware of their symptoms
It is normal for people to realize that their memory is worsening or find that they have difficulty with certain tasks, especially in the early stages of dementia. However, this can vary between individuals and even depending on a person’s situation or scenario that day. In some scenarios, it can be beneficial to make dementia sufferers aware of their symptoms. As dementia gets worse, it is normally better to not highlight those symptoms. Awareness of one’s symptoms will worsen as dementia progresses to more advanced stages.
Myth #15: Once you have dementia there is nothing you can do
Dementia is a progressive disease. That means that it continues to worsen the longer someone has it. It is understandable for people to think that the ability to slow it or stop it might be a lost cause. That being said, there are steps people can take to slow the progression of dementia while making life easier for those suffering from it. Many activities and approaches can help combat the disease. See some of the ways dementia can be slowed here.
Myth #16: Individuals with dementia don’t know what’s going on
Many people think that because a person with dementia can’t communicate well or at all that they don’t understand what’s happening around them. That does not appear to be the case, however. The part of the brain responsible for communication is separate from the part of the brain that manages awareness and understanding. Therefore, if they have difficulty with communication, they can probably understand the situations they are in.
Myth #17: Dementia makes its sufferers violent or aggressive
Unfortunately, this is seen in some individuals that suffer from dementia. However, each individual’s circumstances with dementia vary. Aggression is actually less common than stereotypes portray. When interacting with those that have dementia, showing patience, good communication, and tracking the behaviors of an individual with dementia can all help lower the risk of violence and aggression. People with dementia can have challenges communicating, but they still provide signals and clues about their current state. Aggression can demonstrate that there is something causing them discomfort. By evaluating the circumstances of their behavior, it can help a loved one or caregiver determine what is wrong. Read our 1o tips for communicating with those that have dementia.
Myth #18: Individuals with dementia are inept or incompetent
Dementia is debilitating, but it does not mean one is incompetent. For example, for many older adults in early stages of dementia, they can still have a clear ability to make decisions in different aspects of their lives. They may need to be monitored, as a cautious balance between independence and reliance may be necessary to facilitate appropriate decision making.
Finding the right support
There are many myths surrounding dementia that can shroud our understanding of the issues facing loved ones who suffer from dementia diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
By debunking the most common misconceptions and stereotypes listed here, you can be more well prepared to offer support and comfort to a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Not all families or loved ones have the time available to provide support, activities, and needed care for those with dementia. Look into innovations or technologies that can supplement family caregiving. If you find that you need a little extra support for you or your loved one, consider home care which can be very supportive for those that live with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Chosen Family Home Care can assist with at-home support in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas of Pennsylvania.