What are some common misconceptions about Alzheimer’s disease?
You’ve begun to notice memory issues and other concerns with your loved one and when bringing it up begin to hear comments like “Alzheimer’s doesn’t run in our family,” or “memory loss is part of normal aging,” or the opposite “memory issues, it must be Alzheimer’s.” These are just a few of the myths and misconceptions about Alzheimer’s disease.
Myth: Dementia and Alzheimer ’s disease are the same thing
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not the same thing.
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of symptoms and conditions that affect cognitive functioning and daily life. Friends and relatives are likely to notice a change in the ability to process new information. Different types of dementia can have very different causes and some causes can be reversed.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific disease involving the loss of cognitive function of the brain. It is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 60% of dementia cases, but it is not the only cause. A thorough medical evaluation will determine what is causing your loved one’s symptoms and identify whether or not it is Alzheimer’s disease or has some other cause. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that cannot be reversed.
Myth: Alzheimer’s is a part of aging
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. While normal brain aging can mean that your loved one takes longer to process information and perhaps respond to questions or situations, memory loss is not a given as we age. Routine memory should be stable and may in fact improve as we get older, think of the expression, “older and wiser.” Alzheimer’s disease specifically affects cells in the brain with increasing impaired ability to manage activities of daily life. While age can be one of several risk factors for Alzheimer’s, it is important to remember that age alone does not determine whether or not someone will have Alzheimer’s. Other conditions can also cause memory loss and dementia symptoms.
Myth: Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t affect the rest of the body
As Alzheimer’s affects neurons in the brain, parts of the body controlling language, physical movement, and internal functioning of the body are affected. As the disease progresses, there are progressive impacts on everyday activities such as eating, walking, conversing with others, and using the bathroom. Other physical symptoms include problems with balance or coordination, shuffled walking, weak muscles, twitching, or other uncontrolled movements.
Myth: Only seniors are affected by Alzheimer ’s disease
While aging is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s and iy mostly affects people over the age of 65, early onset Alzheimer’s can affect people beginning in their 30s and 40s. This type of Alzheimer’s disease is rarer, affecting about 10% of the total Alzheimer’s disease cases. Most early-onset Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed in their 40s as the symptoms become more apparent. This form of the disease is more closely associated with a genetic predisposition toward developing the harmful protein plaques in the brain that impact brain function.
Myth: Alzheimer’s isn’t a fatal disease
Speaking bluntly, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes memory changes, changes in behavior, and loss of body functions. While there are some dementia causes that can be reversed, Alzheimer’s cannot be reversed and has no survivors. There is always hope that ongoing research will someday find a way to prevent or alleviate Alzheimer’s.
Myth: Vaccines can cause Alzheimer’s disease
With recent controversies surrounding vaccines and their long-term effects, it is natural to be suspicious of their role in contracting Alzheimer’s, especially as so little is known as to who is at risk for contracting the disease. However, whether flu, tetanus, or other adult vaccines, research continues to show that, in fact, these vaccines are connected with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease contraction. Current research indicates that patients who regularly got the influenza vaccine were much less likely to develop the disease. This may be due to other overall health factors, but the positive connection between vaccines and Alzheimer’s prevention is not disputed.
Myth: Alzheimer’s disease is a chance happening
While it may seem that Alzheimer’s disease strikes people at random, the reality is that there are several risk factors that indicate likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Those risk factors include age, genetics – especially for early-onset Alzheimer’s, gender, people with Downs’s syndrome, head injuries, environmental toxins, and low education level. As we age, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s dramatically increases with 50% of people over the age of 80 at risk. Genetic predispositions are a risk factor, including for those with Down’s syndrome and especially for developing early-onset. Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. Other risk factors such as education level and environmental toxins are affected by overall health situations.
When is it time for memory care?
Placing your loved one in an assisted living facility for memory care is never easy. Briefly speaking, consider memory care for the following reasons:
- When conditions are unsafe for either you as a caregiver or your loved one.
- When your loved one cannot manage activities of daily living such as meals and hygiene.
- When you notice personality or behavior changes such as confusion or delusions.
- When you cannot manage anymore.
When to know it’s time for memory care