Alzheimer’s disease is the only one of the top ten causes of death in the US for which there is no known prevention, cure, or treatment that can alter the course of the disease. Because of this and the disease’s prevalence—over 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s in the US—many myths surround the disease. Reading about them can increase your understanding of this much researched yet still elusive disease. What’s more, it can help protect you and your family from misinformation.
Myth #1 – Only the Elderly Develop Alzheimer’s Disease
People in their 50s, 40s, and 30s can develop Alzheimer’s disease. The disease may strike at an even younger age—a 27-year-old woman has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When it occurs in people younger than 65, the disease is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s. In the US alone, it’s estimated that 200,000 people under the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s.
Myth #2 – One of My Parents Has Alzheimer, So I’ll Probably Get It Too
If your mother, father, brother, or sister develop Alzheimer’s disease, your risk to develop it increases. This risk further increases if there are two or more cases in your immediate family. However, familial Alzheimer’s disease represents less than 5% of all total Alzheimer’s cases. Having Alzheimer’s in the family should motivate you to live healthily and engage in continuous learning, which can contribute to your brain health.
Myth #3 – Memory Problems at An Old Age Are a Sign of Alzheimer’s
This is not true. Some memory loss occurs naturally as we age. It’s normal for an older person not to be able to recall someone’s name or to forget where they have left their eyeglasses. However, when memory problems occur frequently and begin to affect your day-to-day life, it could raise a red flag.
Not being able to remember a familiar route, constantly misplacing personal belongings, or having difficulties sustaining a conversation can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Frequent memory problems that family and friends observe before you do can be an especially worrying sign.
Myth #4 – Alzheimer’s Disease Is a Death Sentence
People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can go on to live active lives that require minimal to moderate assistance from caretakers for years. People diagnosed at an early stage can go on to live 5 to 20 years with the condition.
In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, which can last several years, people tend to experience only memory problems. These may be inconvenient and create daily challenges, but they are by no means debilitating.
Eating a diet that is healthy for the heart, engaging in activities that stimulate cognitive function, and exercising regularly may help you better manage the disease in its early stages. Also important is to remain socially engaged.
Myth #5 – Alzheimer’s Disease Can Be Cured
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but scientists around the world are experimenting with novel treatments that in the future may prove effective at least in slowing the progression of the disease. “The first survivor of Alzheimer’s is out there,” the Alzheimer’s Association tells us.
Myth #6 – Specific Factors Cause Alzheimer’s, Which Means the Disease Can Be Prevented
Eating from aluminum cans, having silver dental fillings, or getting flu vaccines have all been linked at one time or another with Alzheimer’s disease. However, several studies have ruled out any associations between these and your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. As a matter of fact, a report published in the Canadian Medical Journal suggests that receiving certain vaccines could actually reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Myth #7 – Some Lifestyle Changes Will Protect You from Alzheimer’s Disease
Eating a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, doing aerobic exercises, and playing word games are just some of the lifestyle changes that are sometimes promoted as good for preventing Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is currently no solid evidence to suggest that any lifestyle change or set of lifestyle changes can ward off the disease.
That being said, many of the lifestyle changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease prevention are good for brain health and can help sustain cognitive function. Some may prove to play a role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s or slowing its development. But they are likely just one piece of the complex puzzle that is preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Myth #8 – Natural Remedies Can Protect You
In recent years, a host of natural remedies have been touted as remedies against Alzheimer’s disease. These include coral calcium derived from seashells, ginkgo biloba, certain fruits and fish that contain the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, and many more.
While these may have a positive impact on your general health, none of them has yet been proven as an effective remedy against Alzheimer’s disease. Until additional research proves the contrary, it’s best to take hyped remedies with a pinch of salt.
Myth #9 – Specific Genes Cause Alzheimer’s Disease
This is only partly true. Gene mutations cause early-onset Alzheimer’s disease which occurs in younger people—people who carry one or more of these genes are very likely to develop the disease.
However, there is currently no solid evidence that specific genes can cause by themselves late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which is by far the most common form of the disease in the world. Your genetic inheritance is only one of the potential triggers for late-onset Alzheimer’s—environmental and lifestyle factors are also likely to play a key role.
Myth #10 – Men Are as Likely as Women to Get It
Two-thirds of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the US are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Currently, this amounts to over 3.5 million women over the age of 65. We don’t know yet why women are more at risk. Ongoing research is investigating whether hormones may play a role in this. Most Alzheimer’s caregivers are also women.
Myth #11 – Alzheimer’s Disease Is Different Than Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies. Alzheimer’s is, in fact, the most prevalent type of dementia by far. Alzheimer’s exhibits common dementia symptoms but has a progression that differentiates it from other forms of dementia.
In the end, a person can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s; but if they have Alzheimer’s, then they also have dementia. Still, using Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably isn’t correct.
While some Alzheimer’s disease myths are naive, others can lead to a poor understanding of the disease. The most dangerous are the ones that lead to a poor approach in dealing with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, such as taking certain supplements touted as effective against the disease despite the lack of scientific evidence to validate them. But while online channels are rife with myths about Alzheimer’s, there are also a lot of valuable resources out there that can help you stay informed with the latest research.
In the end, when reading about Alzheimer’s disease, always look for information that comes from sources you can trust. Avoiding misinformation gives you a clearer picture of what Alzheimer’s is, what you can expect from it, and how you can manage it. Living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone who does becomes easier when you’re equipped with the right information.