More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder in which the brain’s nerve cells get entangled and wither away. It’s a term that most are familiar with, but even so, there are plenty of misconceptions about the disease. Here, we bust six common myths about Alzheimer’s and give you facts that can help you and your family understand this disease better.
Myth: Memory loss is a normal part of aging.
Reality: Occasional memory lapses such as momentarily forgetting a name or where you put the keys are common as one gets older. But the memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia isn’t part of the normal aging process. Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and eventually die. Only about one in five older adults develops dementia, and it can also occur in people much younger. Millions of people live well into their 80s and 90s with good memories and very little cognitive decline.
Myth: Alzheimer’s disease is genetic.
Reality: A family history of Alzheimer’s only slightly increases your risk of developing it – it doesn’t mean you’re destined to have it, too. Research into the role of genetics and Alzheimer’s is ongoing. A so-called “risk gene” has been identified, and inheriting this gene from both parents increases your risk, but it’s still not clear how it works or what other genes are involved. Specific types of Alzheimer’s disease, such as an early onset form called familial Alzheimer’s, are more likely to run in families, but account for fewer than 10% of cases.
Myth: Memory loss means Alzheimer’s.
Reality: Again, there’s a big difference between occasional forgetfulness and the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s. The latter impacts one’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Along with more serious loss, other Alzheimer’s symptoms may include issues such as decreased ability to solve problems, lapses in judgement, problems with speech or spatial relationships, or mood and personality changes.
Memory loss may have other causes such as depression; medication side effects; a head injury; stress; thyroid, kidney or liver disorders; tumors; blood clots or brain infections.
Myth: Early diagnosis and treatment can reverse the disease.
Reality: Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that’s irreversible. There’s no known cure, and while there are some medications that may slow the progress, they don’t work for everyone. Early diagnosis gives the patient and their family time to prepare and opportunities to make the most of the time they have together.
Myth: Nothing can reduce your risk for dementia.
Reality: Research is ongoing, but numerous studies indicate that certain lifestyle changes may reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. A healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, light to moderate alcohol consumption, and challenging activities that regularly stimulate your brain can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 60%.
Myth: An Alzheimer’s diagnosis means life is over.
Reality: While it does mean that life is different, it doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to live a meaningful life, whether at home or in a senior living community memory care setting.
Memory care is different than care in a nursing home. It’s designed to give residents opportunities to stay social, eat well, get exercise, and keep connected to loved ones. Specialized programs help residents express themselves creatively and engage in meaningful activities. Outings, volunteer opportunities, music, animal therapy and more tap into the skills each resident still has, stimulate memories, and let them live with purpose and joy.
Looking for Alzheimer’s care for a loved one? We have senior living communities across the nation that offer Alzheimer’s care through their person-centered memory care services. Find one near you.