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Myths and realities about Alzheimer's disease

Over the years, many myths have arisen about what Alzheimer's disease is, who gets it and how it affects people who have it. These myths can add to the stigma or shame attached to the disease. They can also stand in the way of our ability to understand and help people with it. At the Alzheimer Society, we believe the sooner we get rid of the myths, the better we'll be able to respond to the needs of the people with dementia and their families.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disease. It is most often diagnosed 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 (family history) plays a role in the disease, only in five to seven per cent of the cases is the cause connected to genes. In these cases, the disease is the early onset Familial Alzheimer's disease (FAD). Genes may also play a role in the more common, late onset, "sporadic Alzheimer's disease" form. A person who has a parent or sibling with sporadic Alzheimer's disease has a slightly higher risk of getting the disease.

Myth 2

Alzheimer's disease is an old person's disease.

Reality: Age is the strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. But this does not mean that most people develop the disease as they age. Most do not. As well, some younger people, in their 40s or 50s, have been diagnosed with the late onset form of the disease. 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: There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet. But, for some people, medications and treatments can help manage some of the symptoms and improve quality of life. The good news is that researchers have made great progress and a number of drugs now in clinical trials act directly against the disease process.

Myth 4

Memory loss means Alzheimer's disease.

Reality: Many people have trouble with their memory. This by itself does not mean they have Alzheimer's disease. When memory loss affects day-to-day function and is combined with lack of judgment and reasoning, or changes in the ability to communicate, it's best to see a doctor to find out the cause of the symptoms.

Myth 5

You can prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Reality: No treatment can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are learning, however, that lifestyle choices that keep mind and body fit may help lower the risk of developing the disease. 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.

Some people believe that avoiding aluminum in cooking utensils (pots and pans) reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Although there's been a lot research into the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease, there's no definite evidence to show a link. The disease appears to develop when the different risk factors combine. This includes older age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. These factors overwhelm the natural capacity of the brain to deal with them.

Myth 6

Vitamins, supplements and memory boosters can prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Reality: Many studies have been done to see how effective products such as vitamins E, B, and C, gingko biloba, folate, and selenium may be in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. The findings are mixed and inconclusive. Research in this area is ongoing.

Myth 7

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. Alzheimer’s disease is often diagnosed earlier now than it used to be and we have medications that may help slow down the disease. It is also important for the person with Alzheimer’s disease to be in an appropriate setting, and to be provided with services, support and activities to help enrich their quality of life as the disease progresses.

Myth 8

All people with Alzheimer's disease become violent and aggressive.

Reality: Alzheimer's disease affects each person differently. Not everyone with the disease becomes aggressive. The memory loss and resulting confusion are 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 9

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. Other people have difficulty. Although the disease affects each person differently, it does affect how people are able communicate and make sense of the world around them. When we assume someone does not understand, we can unintentionally hurt the person’s feelings. The person with Alzheimer's disease is still the same person and needs to be treated with dignity and respect.

Myth 10

Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.

Reality: Alzheimer’s disease is fatal. The disease not only robs people of their memory, it destroys brain cells, so the body forgets how to do what it needs to do to survive, such as talk, move, or eat.

An end to the myths

The Alzheimer Society would like to put an end to the myths surrounding Alzheimer's disease.

Get the facts:

  • Learn about the disease.
  • Seek help.
  • Treat people with the disease with respect.

The Alzheimer Society is a national not-for-profit health organization dedicated to helping people affected by Alzheimer's disease. The Society has numerous resources and support programs for people with the disease and their caregivers. The Society funds research into finding a cure for the disease, and into improved methods of caregiving.

Contact us at 1-800-263-3367.

[This information is also available in a brochure from your local Alzheimer Society or you can download the brochure from this site.]


Last Updated: 04/21/14
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