Written by Josh Horsman
Dementia is a global health concern, affecting around 50 million people worldwide. It is therefore also one of the most talked about health conditions as most people know somebody who has been affected in some way. However, while global awareness is important, it also means that there is a large amount of misinformation circulating about what Dementia is, how it affects people and how to treat those who live with the condition.
Here we've set out some of the most common myths surrounding Dementia and sought to bring clarification:
1. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are Interchangeable Terms:
One of the most important things for people to know when it comes to dementia awareness is that Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease do not mean the same thing. Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions which cause cognitive decline, resulting in symptoms such as memory-loss, impaired judgement disorientation and behavioural changes. Alzheimer’s Disease is simply one form of Dementia and, in fact, the most common type.
2. Only Elderly People can get Dementia:
Dementia is commonly thought of as an ‘older people’s condition’. However, people who assume that Dementia only affects seniors overlook the significant number of cases of ‘early-onset’ Dementia. This is defined as Dementia that typically affects those aged between 30 and 65, and it is surprisingly common. In the UK around 42,000 people under 65 have some form of Dementia and in the US around 200,000 people in this age group have early-onset Alzheimer’s alone. All types of Dementia are seen in early-onset form, including Alzheimer’s which is often considered an age-related condition, while Frontotemporal Dementia has the highest ratio of early-onset cases to cases in those over 65.
3. People Living with Dementia don't Understand what's Happening Around Them
Communication problems are a prominent symptom of Dementia. Those living with the condition may often find it difficult to express themselves or to process and respond to what others are saying to them. 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 Dementia are more likely to be aware of their surroundings and understanding of situations but simply unable to interact with people and their environment in the way they intend.
these diseases which can prove to be fatal. For example, Alzheimer’s disease causes progressive brain damage, not just memory loss, which is degenerative.
4. If Your Parents Had Dementia, You Will Definitely Get it Too.
Many people who have known family members and loved-ones with Dementia fear that they may inherit the condition genetically, but the reality is that this is seldom the case. The most common type of Dementia - Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), is perhaps the most feared of all types of Dementia, but even this is extremely unlikely to be inherited. Whilst there are cases of AD being evident in family lines, statistics suggest that in 99% of cases, the condition is not inherited. These figures are slightly more significant for both Frontotemporal Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia, however neither of these are considered ‘genetic conditions’, rather there is simply an increased risk of developing the conditions if family members in previous generations have been affected.
Meanwhile, Vascular Dementia is most-often caused by other conditions related to the heart such as stroke and high blood-pressure. This makes Vascular Dementia far more likely to be a result of an unhealthy lifestyle rather than genetics. Similarly, TBI Dementias are typically caused by as a result of sudden injuries, meaning they are also not inherited conditions.
5. It’s Wise to Point Out When Someone With Dementia Makes a Mistake
People with Dementia, 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. Dementia is not Fatal
Unfortunately, while there are lots of ways to live well with Dementia and even things we can do to reduce our risk of ever getting it in the first place, Dementia is a progressive condition. This means that once diagnosed, Dementia 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. There is Nothing you can do About Dementia once you have it.
Dementia is, by nature, a progressive condition. Once you have been diagnosed with Dementia, 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 Dementia 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 Dementia. 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.