Today is World Alzheimer’s Day and September is World Alzheimer’s Month – so we thought it would be a great opportunity to ask some Health Activists in the Alzheimer’s community a question that we’ve found really helpful for raising awareness: What are the biggest myths or misconceptions about Alzheimer’s Disease?
If Alzheimer’s isn’t something that has touched your family in a big way – it may not be something you’re entirely familiar with. Why not take today and sometime this weekend to familiarize yourself with the condition and those who advocate so tirelessly for this incredibly difficult condition and the community that supports it?
Let’s correct some myths & misconceptions…
Myth: Alzheimer’s disease is a natural part of the aging process.
Truth: This is just one of the many misguided and untruthful myths that has been swirling around for decades. The World Health Organization 2012 Report entitled, Dementia: A Public Health Priority, had this to say about dementia (of which Alzheimer’s is but one type): “The world’s population is aging. Improvements in health care in the past century have contributed to people living longer and healthier lives. However, this has also resulted in an increase in the number of people with non communicable diseases, including dementia. Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of aging. Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behavior and ability to perform everyday activities.”
The presence of this false belief worldwide serves as a roadblock to obtaining a timely diagnosis, appropriate medical treatment and helpful medications for the affected individual and educational guidance for families and caregivers.
Myth: Alzheimer’s is a loss of memory – everyone knows that.
Truth: There is much more to it. Chapter One of the WHO 2012 Report disclosed the following: “There is a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia, at some level, in most countries. It is often considered to be a normal part of aging or a condition for which nothing can be done. This affects people with dementia, their caregivers and families, and their support structure in a number of ways. Low awareness levels contribute to stigmatization and isolation. Poor understanding creates barriers to timely diagnosis and to accessing ongoing medical and social care, leading to a large gap in treatment.”
Myth: You will get Alzheimer’s if you’re over 85.
Truth: The propensity for developing AD does increase with age, particularly so from age 85 onward, but it is by no means a certainty. In March of this year, the Alzheimer’s Association released a report entitled, 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts And Figures. The following statistics were cited: One in eight people age 65 and older (13 percent) has Alzheimer’s Disease. Nearly half of people age 85 and older (45 percent) have Alzheimer’s Disease. These numbers are sobering but do not support the myth that Dementia /Alzheimer’s is prevalent in everyone because it’s just a normal part of aging.
Myth: We don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s so we can’t do anything about it once it’s diagnosed.
Truth: What is needed is further education about the facts underlying dementia and its nearly 70 variations including Alzheimer’s. Education leads to empowerment and better choices about diagnosis, treatment and obtaining the best medications.
Myth: There is no recent information share or research conducted about Alzheimer’s.
Truth: Research is being done all the time. While there still needs funding and support for those who study and raise awareness for Alzheimer’s – strides are being made. Two recent bright spot articles appeared in the online resource, Science Daily. Both featured studies focusing on older citizens who seemed to somehow be protected from the degradation of dementia The first article entitled, Resistance to Dementia May Run in the Family, was published on August 15th 2012. A small study of 277 male veterans by Dr. Jeremy M. Silverman of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. The finding revealed that people who are free of dementia and who have higher levels of what is called C-reactive protein have relatives who are more likely to avoid the disease as well. A protective genetic element appears to be the underlying finding here. The second article entitled, Secrets of ‘Super-Ager’ Brains: Elderly Super-Agers Have Brains That Look and Act Decades Younger Than Their Age, was published on August 16th 2012. A study conducted by Emily Rogalski at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, identified a unique and perhaps, elite group of people age 80 and older who possess memories as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger than them. In addition, brain scans disclosed that the outer layer of the brain, known as the Cortex, of these study participants closely resembled the cortex size of people between the ages of 50 to 65. Something, as yet undiscovered and understood, seems to have conferred some kind of aging immunity to these select few seniors. Finally, and again, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are collectively not part of the normal aging process.
Myth: Alzheimer’s is the same as dementia.
Truth: Dementia is the umbrella term used to describe cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s, Lewy bodies, vascular, and even later-stage Parkinson’s. (There are more causes, these are just a few.)
Myth: Only old people get Alzheimer’s.
Truth: Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. This is called younger-onset Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that there are as many as 5.4 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. This includes 5.2 million people age 65 and over and 200,000 people under age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Myth: A cure for Alzheimer’s is on the horizon.
Truth: We do not yet agree what causes Alzheimer’s disease. While research focuses on amyloid plaques and tau tangles, the former (plaques) have been found in the brains of well-functioning people who died. Until we agree on what “Alzheimer’s” really is, how can researchers direct their efforts in a more productive direction?
Myth: The good thing about having Alzheimer’s is that you can retrain other parts of the brain to do the job eliminated by AD.
Truth: Unlike an injury to the brain lost skills and memories cannot be transfered to healthy sections of the brain. Eventually, Alzheimer’s destroys the entire brain.
Special thanks to the following Health Activists – who shared myths and corrected misconceptions and helped to create this post. Be sure to follow them and support their work!
For more information, visit the following web sites:
Alzheimer’s Association www.alz.org
Alzheimer’s Reading Room www.alzheimersreasdingroom.com
Dementia Weekly www.alzheimersweekly.com/
What myths or misconceptions would you like to add?