Written by Josh Horsman
Right now, 5.5million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Globally, the number of cases is more than 8 times that number. Alzheimer’s is so prevalent worldwide that the vast majority of us have encountered the condition firsthand either through a relative or friend. Because of this, Alzheimer's is the subject of international conversation which has succeeded in raising awareness of the condition and the terrible impact it has. But awareness does not necessarily create understanding, in fact there is a large amount of misinformation circulating about what Alzheimer’s is, how it affects people and how to treat those who live with the condition.
Here we address some the most common myths surrounding Alzheimer’s Disease:
1. Alzheimer’s is Interchangeable with Dementia
One of the most common misconceptions surrounds the terminology used to refer to Alzheimer’s Disease. Many people wrongly assume that Alzheimer’s and Dementia are interchangeable terms for the same condition. In fact, Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of cognitive conditions, of which Alzheimer’s Disease is only one. Other forms of Dementia include Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia. Each of these conditions differ in their symptoms, Alzheimer’s Disease is simply the most common and therefore most recognisable form of Dementia.
2. Alzheimer’s Only Affects Older People
There is an undeniable correlation between age and the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, that much is definitely true. Indeed, as many as 96% of cases occurs in people over the age of 65. However, classifying AD as exclusively an older people’s condition is to ignore the many cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s, including some 200,000 people aged under-65 in the US alone. AD has been known to affect people as young as 30, and while such cases are incredibly rare, the number of younger people with AD is still significant and ‘early-onset Alzheimer’s’ remains a little-known phenomenon that must be highlighted to improve awareness and understanding.
3. People Living with Alzheimer’s don't Understand what's Happening Around Them
Communication problems are a prominent symptom of any form of Dementia. People living with Alzheimer’s often find it difficult to express themselves or to process what others are saying and respond to it. However, this does not mean that they are unaware of what is happening around them, as is often misunderstood to be the case. Instead, people with Alzheimer’s are more likely to simply be unable to interact with people and their environment in the way they intend.
4. If Your Parents Had Alzheimer’s Disease, You Will Definitely Get it Too.
As the most common type, Alzheimer’s Disease is perhaps the most feared of all types of Dementia. Many people experience caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s and, perhaps understandably, assume that they themselves will inevitably develop the condition themselves. Available evidence does not support this view, however. Whilst there are cases of AD being carried in family lines, statistics suggest that in 99% of cases, the condition is not inherited. It is not yet known what causes AD, or any other form of Dementia, but it’s important to know that your risk of developing the condition is not any higher just because your parents had Alzheimer’s.
5. It’s Wise to Point Out When Someone With Alzheimer’s Disease Makes a Mistake
People living with Alzheimer’s, especially in the later stages, will make a lot of mistakes every day. They might forget the name of a loved-one, even a family member, or they may make strange decisions or fail to remember planned events. The important thing is for their loved-ones to remain supportive and patient. Correcting every mistake they make can cause the person to become even more confused or lead them to feel depression, agitation or anger. Instead, it is best to simply exercise patience, encouragement and understanding.
6. Alzheimer’s Disease is not Fatal
Unfortunately, while there are lots of ways to live well with Alzheimer’s Disease and even things we can do to reduce our risk of ever getting it in the first place, all forms of Dementia are progressive in nature. This means that once diagnosed, Alzheimer’s will begin to cause cognitive decline that cannot yet be stopped or reversed by current medical means. This degeneration of the brain eventually leaves patients unable to cope with physical problems such as infection or other health conditions, leaving them unprotected against conditions which lead to death.
7. It’s Impossible to Live Well with Alzheimer’s
Once you have been diagnosed with AD, there is not yet any medical way to prevent the degeneration it causes or reverse the effects. However, the idea that it is not possible to live well with the condition is, quite simply, a myth. There are a range of medications available to those who have been diagnosed, medications that can ease the everyday symptoms and help people to live more normal lives (for more information on these medications, see our blog). Apart from drugs, there are also lifestyle choices you can make to help you live well with Alzheimer’s. Research has found that those who exercise regularly, eat brain-healthy foods and frequently engage in social interaction are more likely to maintain their independence and key cognitive functions for longer.