Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and is the only disease in the top 10 causes of death that has no prevention, treatment or cure. Many misconceptions and myths surround the debilitating, neurogenerative disease.
The most common misconception about the disease is that people think that only older people develop it. Though the risk increases dramatically with age, about 5% of people with it develop symptoms before age 65. And it has been documented that the disease can appear as early as 30 years old.
People fear that Alzheimer’s disease is hereditary, which is partially true. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that those who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease than those who do not have a first-degree relative with the disease.
When Alzheimer’s or other dementias tend to run in families, either genetics or environmental factors, or both, may play a role. Yet, familial Alzheimer’s disease accounts for less than 5% of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, new research has found a link to lifestyle choices and health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that play a factor in the high risk of the disease.
Another misconception about Alzheimer’s is that memory loss automatically means the individual is developing it. As we age, we do have trouble with remembering names, misplacing keys, etc. However, this does not make a diagnosis. Many other illnesses, such as depression and heart disease as well as some medications, can cause memory loss. A physician typically rules out other factors before assessing for Alzheimer’s.
If cognitive function affects activities of daily living, and if the individual is having problems with communication, judgment or reasoning, then it’s time to be evaluated by a physician.
Some think aluminum causes Alzheimer’s. Decades ago, people were throwing out aluminum pots and refusing to drink from aluminum cans because of this myth. There is no conclusive evidence that aluminum causes the disease.
Others think taking supplements will reduce the risk and “prevent” dementia. Studies on vitamins E, B, C, gingko biloba, folate and selenium for the prevention of dementia have been inconclusive.
One of the most pervasive misconceptions is that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease means that all hope is lost, and that life is over. Though it will mean changes, the affected individual and his or her family are often able to find new communities of support and learn how to live with the disease to continue meaningful and purposeful lives.
Living in the present, enjoying activities together and revising life’s goals are all keys to sustaining hope in the journey of the disease. With a strong support system and a loving environment, individuals with Alzheimer’s can participate and enjoy life in a number of ways after the diagnosis.
Myths and misconceptions can block the way of understanding Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects the individuals who have it. Getting educated about the disease as soon as a diagnosis is made promotes a healthy acceptance and helps all those affected live well for as long as possible.