Current estimates say that about 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Dispelling some common misconceptions about this disease may help you better understand dementia.
Myth: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same.
Reality: Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.
While people often call the disease Alzheimer’s in general, this is actually not quite correct. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, accounting for about 60-80% of all cases. Other types of dementia include frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, mixed dementia and Lewy body dementia. Although dementias share certain characteristics, each type has a distinct underlying pathology. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with a buildup of so-called plaques and tangles in the brain, which interfere with brain cells, eventually killing them.
Myth: If you’re experiencing memory loss, you have dementia.
Reality: Memory loss can be a natural part of aging.
Although memory loss can be an early symptom of dementia, it does not necessarily signify the start of this condition. As we get older, we naturally forget things from time to time. However, if memory loss is interfering with everyday life, it is best to speak with a doctor. While memory issues tend to be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, that is not the case for other forms of dementia. For instance, early signs and symptoms of frontotemporal dementia can include changes in mood and personality, language difficulties and obsessive behavior.
Myth: Dementia only affects elderly people.
Reality: Dementia can affect people as young as 30.
While age is a risk factor for dementia, in rare cases the disease can affect younger adults as well. Sadly, dementia can begin to affect people in their 30s, 40s and 50s—this is known as early-onset dementia. With treatment and early diagnosis, you may be able to slow down the progression of dementia and maintain mental function for a longer period of time.
Myth: A diagnosis means the end of a meaningful life.
Reality: You can live with dementia and at the same time meaningfully for many years.
Many people think that a dementia diagnosis means that the person affected will be immediately incapable of living a normal life. Thankfully, this is not the case. While it’s true that adjustments to their life may be necessary as the condition progresses, in mild cases of dementia, almost no changes may be necessary. Even when dementia worsens and changes to the way the person leads their life become inevitable, they can still lead a fulfilling life.
Myth: If a family member had dementia, you will definitely have it too.
Reality: For most people, family genetics don’t cause dementia.
It’s a common myth that dementia is purely genetic. Although there is a genetic component to some forms of dementia, the majority of cases don’t have a strong genetic link. Rather than genetics, the most significant risk factor is age.
Myth: Dementia can be cured.
Reality: Each major type of dementia is currently incurable.
While there is currently no cure for the major types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, medications, support and care early in the disease can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. This however doesn’t mean that dementia is impossible to cure. Once we find out what exactly causes dementia, we may also be just one step closer to finding a cure.
Myth: Dementia can be prevented.
Reality: Sadly, there is no treatment that can prevent the onset or slow down the progress of dementia.
While many people believe that certain vitamins and supplements can prevent the onset of dementia, sadly this is not true. On the positive side, making some conscious lifestyle choices, such as being physically and socially active, challenging your brain, following a healthy diet and managing stress can help reduce the risk of dementia.
If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia at home, take our short quiz to make sure they get the best care possible.