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The Truth Behind These 7 Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be distressing for people with these conditions and the people who love and care for them. 

A lot of myths and misconceptions surround these diseases. Sometimes, these misunderstandings can mean people don’t get the care and treatment that can make it a little easier to manage Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

We connected with Steven Rapcsak, MD, a neurologist with Banner Alzheimer's Institute, to discover the truth behind these seven common misconceptions.

Myth 1: Nothing can be done to treat Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Since dementia gets progressively worse, it can feel pointless to seek care. It can also be scary to get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia if you suspect that you or a loved one has one of these conditions, but you don’t know for sure. 

But getting care is important. Neurologists, geriatricians and other health care providers who specialize in dementia can work with you to develop a care plan. 

When experts spot changes that could be early signs of dementia, they can suggest treatments. “Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments available to slow the progression of the memory and cognitive decline,” Dr. Rapcsak said.

FDA-approved medication can help keep cognitive problems from getting worse as quickly as they might without medication. Controlling other health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes can also help. Additionally, lifestyle changes like regular physical activity, a balanced diet and mental stimulation can help brain function stay as strong as it can.

Starting these treatments as soon as possible makes it more likely that they will be effective. Plus, early detection gives people with dementia and their families more time to plan for the future, make decisions about care and work on lifestyle changes. They can begin to connect with support groups, counseling services and educational resources.

Myth 2: Memory loss is a normal part of aging

“Memory loss is not part of normal aging. It should be evaluated to allow early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Early diagnosis is critical, because treatments and interventions are less effective in the more advanced stages of the disease,” Dr. Rapcsak said.

The memory issues that come with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can affect daily activities and tasks. A person experiencing them can feel confused and disoriented. They may make poor decisions, not recognize family members or friends and/or not realize what time of year it is.

Talk to a health care provider if you notice memory lapses or trouble thinking in yourself or a loved one. They can review medical history, perform a physical exam and rule out other possible causes of memory issues.

They can also evaluate memory, language, problem-solving abilities and other functions. One way is by running tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) that can show structural changes or issues in the brain.

Myth 3: There's no point in getting diagnosed – if I have dementia, I'd rather not know

It can be frightening to be diagnosed with dementia. But diagnosis can help you connect with health care providers, counselors and support groups that can help you deal with fear, uncertainty and anxiety. 

“Failure to get an evaluation leads to a delay in diagnosis, so you can’t get treatment in the early stages of the disease when it is likely to be the most effective,” Dr. Rapcsak said. “It also adds to the burden of caregivers, and it makes it less likely you’ll be able to access clinical trials that are testing promising new drugs.”

Diagnosis can also help you plan for the future. You’ll need to make decisions about health care, finances and legal issues, and it’s best to think through these concerns when you or your loved one are still able to participate. 

For example, you may want to establish power of attorney, draft advance directives and designate a health care proxy. You may need to create a financial plan to address possible long-term care costs.

As hard as it can be to know you have dementia, getting diagnosed means you can share your wishes with family members and caregivers. They can respect those wishes and support you as the disease gets worse. 

Myth 4: If a parent had Alzheimer’s disease, I’ll get it too

“A family history increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but having a parent with dementia does not mean that you will develop the disease. Genetics are not the only risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Rapcsak said.

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease, and along with genetics, factors like exercise, diet, pollution and smoking can play a role in your risk. If you have a parent with Alzheimer’s disease, you may want to talk to a health care provider about the steps you can take to reduce your risk. 

Myth 5: I’m not old enough to have dementia

It’s true that age increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But younger people are still at risk. “Although most people with Alzheimer’s disease are in their 70s or 80s, at least 5% of the cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 65,” Dr. Rapcsak said.

Some people are even younger. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is rare — only about 10% of people with the disease show signs at a young age. But it can strike people as early as their 30s. For example, people with Down syndrome are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease at a young age than others. They can have symptoms that start in their 40s.

Myth 6: Supplements can prevent or cure Alzheimer’s or dementia

If you or a loved one has dementia, or you’re at risk for dementia, it’s tempting to believe that taking a supplement can protect you. Companies market lots of products that claim to prevent or slow memory loss, but these supplements aren’t likely to make a difference.

“There is no scientific evidence that supplements can prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” Dr. Rapcsak said. 

Myth 7: You can prevent Alzheimer’s disease or dementia

While you can’t prevent these conditions, you can take steps to reduce your risk:

  • Choose a healthy diet centered around whole grains, lean protein, vegetables and fruit
  • Stay physically and mentally active
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • To prevent head injury, wear a helmet and seatbelt when needed
  • Control high blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Get seven to nine hours of sleep per night
  • Treat hearing loss with hearing aids or cochlear implants

The bottom line

If you or a loved one shows signs of memory loss or problems with thinking, don’t believe the myths. Talk to a health care provider. An expert can rule out other possible causes, make an accurate diagnosis, create a treatment plan and help you connect with support and services that will make it easier to face whatever comes your way.

To connect with a neurologist or geriatrician who can help, reach out to Banner Health

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