Dementia: Myth vs. Fact

The complicated nature of memory disorders leads to many misconceptions. The team at Memorial Hermann Mischer Neurosciences wants to give you the facts to help to dispel some of the most common myths about dementia.

MYTH 1: Developing dementia is a normal part of aging.

Fact: While it’s common for an aging person to have some trouble remembering names or places, it is not normal to experience memory loss that interferes with daily life until an advanced age. The signs and symptoms of dementia should not be disregarded as “normal.”

MYTH 2: Dementia is a disease.

Fact: Dementia is not a disease. Instead, the term dementia describes a group of symptoms that affects the ability to think, reason, and remember things. These symptoms are significant enough to interfere with a person’s daily activities. Other changes can include difficulty with language or communication, and unexpected changes in mood and behavior. There are several conditions and diseases that are called dementia, and they can all lead to cognitive impairment and memory loss.

MYTH 3: Dementia is usually diagnosed shortly after the onset of changes in the brain.

Fact: Dementia-causing disease can be present for as long as 20 years before symptoms begin to appear. Normal healthy adults have significant cognitive reserve that allows them to function well, even under duress. A neurodegenerative process such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy Body disease may progress for years without causing significant problems in daily living. Only when the cognitive reserve is depleted will symptoms become apparent.

MYTH 4: Dementia is genetic.

Fact: Although there is a genetic component to some forms of dementia, most cases do not have a strong genetic link. If a parent or grandparent developed a form of dementia when they were younger than 65 years old, the chance of it passing on genetically is higher.

MYTH 5: Dementia cannot be prevented.

Fact: While dementia cannot be cured, there are lifestyle changes that can help slow its progression, even if people experience changes in their memory as they age. New research suggests that eating healthy, getting regular exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake and engaging in cognitive stimulation can decrease the risk of cognitive decline and the risk of developing some forms of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease: Myth vs. Fact

Although Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, it is a disease that is constantly misunderstood. The team at Memorial Hermann Mischer Neurosciences is clearing up some common myths so you can know the facts.

MYTH 1: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same thing.

Fact: Alzheimer’s is one form of dementia, accounting for about 60% of all dementia cases. Although different types of dementia may share certain characteristics, each type has a distinct underlying pathology. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with an abnormal protein called beta amyloid that accumulates as plaques in the brain.

MYTH 2: You can’t reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Fact: Adopting healthy habits can lower your risk of developing forms of dementia, like Alzheimer’s, or can delay the onset of symptoms. Lifestyle factors like managing hypertension, obesity and diabetes, limiting smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and increasing social contact and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A healthy lifestyle also can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attack, which can increase the severity of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

MYTH 3: Only older people can get Alzheimer's.

Fact: While most people with Alzheimer’s disease develop symptoms later in life, Early-Onset Alzheimer's causes symptoms before age 65. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years after age 65. It is estimated that there are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, with 200,000 people younger than 65 living with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease.

MYTH 4: Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.

Fact: Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Most people live 3 to 11 years after they are diagnosed. The disease slowly destroys brain cells and causes memory changes, erratic behavior and loss of body functions. It slowly and painfully takes away a person's identity and ability to connect with others and function independently. Other complications of the disease can be fatal, including the inability to eat or swallow, and difficulty breathing, which can lead to pneumonia.

MYTH 5: Because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there’s no point in being diagnosed.

Fact: A diagnosis can help you get support and treatment to ease symptoms and can help slow down the loss of independence. With a correct diagnosis, you can get appropriate medical care without unnecessary delay. With the latest research, new treatments are becoming available that may help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

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