Alzheimer's disease: Myths & Reality
Over the years, many myths have evolved about what Alzheimer's disease is, who gets it and how it affects people who have it. These myths can add to the stigma attached to the disease and stand in the way of our ability to understand and help people with it. At the Alzheimer Society, we believe the sooner we dispel the myths, the better we'll be able to respond to the reality.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain. It most often occurs in people over 65, but can affect adults at an earlier age.
Myth 1: Because someone in my family has Alzheimer's disease, I'm going to get it.
Reality: Although genetics play a role in the disease, only about seven per cent of cases are associated with genes that cause the early onset inherited familial form of the disease (FAD). The majority of cases are of the late onset "sporadic Alzheimer's disease" form, in which genes may also play a role. A person who has a parent or a sibling who has or had sporadic Alzheimer's disease has a very slightly increased risk of getting the disease.
Myth 2: Alzheimer's disease is only an old person's disease.
Reality: While age is the most significant known risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, most people in fact do not develop the disease as they age. Moreover, even with the late onset form of the disease people have been diagnosed with it in their 40s and 50s.What’s most important to understand is that Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging.
Myth 3: There is a cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: At present there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications and other approaches that can successfully help with some of the symptoms and improve quality of life, in some people. The good news is that researchers have made great strides and there are a number of drugs in clinical trials that act directly against the disease process.
Myth 4: Memory loss means Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Many people have trouble with their memory, but that in itself does not mean they have Alzheimer's disease. When memory loss affects day-to-day function and is coupled with lack of judgment and reasoning, or changes in communication abilities, it's best to visit a doctor to determine the cause of the symptoms.
Myth 5: Aluminium causes Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Although there's been much research into the connection between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease, there's no conclusive evidence to show a link. The disease appears to develop when the combined effects of many risk factors, including age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors, overwhelm the natural capacity of the brain to deal with them.
Myth 6: Alzheimer's disease is preventable.
Reality: There is no treatment that can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There is, however, a growing amount of evidence that lifestyle choices that keep mind and body fit may help reduce the risk. These choices include being physically active; eating healthy foods including fresh fruits, vegetables and fish; keeping your brain challenged; reducing stress, keeping an eye on your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels; avoiding traumatic brain injury; and keeping socially active.
Myth 7: Vitamins, supplements and memory boosters can prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Many studies have been done to test the effectiveness of products such as vitamins E, B, and C, gingko biloba, folate, and selenium in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. The findings are mixed and inconclusive. However, research in this area is ongoing.
Myth 8: If I'm diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, my life is over.
Reality: Many people with the disease live meaningful, active lives. They have a sense of purpose and do not feel their lives are over. Earlier diagnosis and medications are helping. It is also important to provide appropriate surroundings, services, support and activities to people with the disease to help enrich their quality of life throughout the progression of the disease.
Myth 9: All people who have Alzheimer's disease become violent and aggressive.
Reality: Alzheimer's disease affects each person differently, and certainly not all become aggressive. For the person with Alzheimer's disease, the loss of memory and the resulting confusion is often frustrating or even frightening. By learning about the disease, adapting the person's surroundings and changing the way we communicate with the person, aggressive responses may be preventable.
Myth 10: People with Alzheimer's disease cannot understand what is going on around them.
Reality: Some people with Alzheimer's disease understand what is going on around them; others have difficulty. The disease does affect a person's ability to communicate and make sense of the world around them, although it affects each person differently. When we assume someone does not understand, feelings can be hurt unintentionally. The fact is a person with Alzheimer's disease is still the same person as before and needs to be treated with dignity and respect.
An end to the myths
The Alzheimer Society would like to put an end to the myths surrounding Alzheimer's disease.
Source: Alzheimer Society of Canada