Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a specific disease. It is a set of symptoms related to cognitive decline. Learn more about dementia by examining common myths.
Dementia is not a specific disease. Instead, dementia refers to a group of symptoms found in diseases that affect the brain. There are many common myths about dementia, which leads to misconceptions about this group of conditions by the general public. To fully understand dementia, these myths and misconceptions must be examined and used to dispel popular stereotypes. Here are 10 of the most common myths about dementia.
1. Myth: Memory loss always equals dementia.
Fact: Memory loss is not the only symptom of dementia, and occasional forgetfulness is not the same as dementia.
In many cases of dementia, memory loss is the first symptom that signals to a person or their loved ones that there is a problem. However, some forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. Further, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a middle ground for normal aging memory loss vs. dementia. MCI is milder, and most people with MCI are aware of their forgetfulness. Also, not all cases of MCI lead to dementia.
2. Myth: Only seniors develop dementia.
Fact: Most people with dementia are seniors, but some people develop dementia as early as their 30s.
The average age of dementia onset does occur in the senior years. However, in cases of early onset dementia, this age may be dramatically reduced. Most cases of dementia that occur prior to reaching senior age are genetic. In these cases, dementia age of onset may lower to a person’s mid-30s.
3. Myth: Dementia is a normal part of the aging process.
Fact: Most people do not develop dementia.
Due to the majority of dementia cases occurring in seniors, many people believe that dementia is a normal part of aging. However, this is not true. Some memory loss is normal during the aging process, but this normal progression is not as severe as dementia. Prevalence of dementia shows that risk for developing certain forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, increases with age. For example, as many as 8% of adults aged 65 and older are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but this number increases to nearly 30% of adults aged 85 or older.
4. Myth: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same.
Fact: Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, but it’s not the only form of dementia.
Understanding the nature of dementia vs. Alzheimer’s disease can be confusing since Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for as many as 75% of dementia cases. However, there are many other diseases that can lead to dementia. This includes:
- Lewy body disease
- Huntington disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Pick disease
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lyme disease
5. Myth: If someone in your family has dementia, that means you will get it as well.
Fact: Some forms of dementia have a genetic component, but there is not a strong genetic link in most cases.
While dementia is genetic and inherited in some cases, not all cases of dementia are hereditary. If a family member has dementia, it may indicate a higher risk of developing dementia, but this is not a guarantee. Some forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are more prone to being passed on through families. Other forms of dementia, such as those caused by brain injuries or Lyme disease, are less likely to impact multiple family members.
6. Myth: People with dementia are prone to violence
Fact: Not all people with dementia become aggressive, but some people may express frustration through their actions after developing dementia.
Dementia and violence have often been associated. However, violence is not a guarantee for all people with dementia. Violence and aggression become more common during the later stages of dementia. A reason for this aggression may be dementia frustrations rooted in confusion.
There is no definitive explanation for why some people with dementia exhibit aggression and others do not. There are guidelines based on the understanding that confusion and dementia contribute to this occasional aggression, which may be helpful for caregivers. These recommendations include:
- Avoid physically uncomfortable or over-stimulating experiences
- Do not ask more than one question or give more than one direction at a time
- Avoid loud noises
- Keep the person’s environment clean and clutter-free
- Do not attempt to argue a point or change a person with dementia’s perspective
7. Myth: Dementia is not fatal.
Fact: Some progressive forms of dementia can be fatal.
Dementia is fatal in many cases. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The disease rises to the fifth leading cause in adults aged 65 or older. Dementia mortality statistics show that dementia kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, and one-third of seniors have some form of dementia when they die. Due to the increased mortality associated with dementia progression, people aged 65 or older live for about four to eight years after diagnosis.
8. Myth: People with dementia don’t understand what’s going on around them.
Fact: A person with dementia’s perception and understanding of their surroundings vary at different times.
It may be difficult for loved ones who are communicating with dementia patients, as it can sometimes seem that the person with dementia does not understand what is happening. However, people with dementia are not always clueless and confused about surroundings and events taking place. Dementia tends to be progressive, so a lack of understanding is more likely in later stages. In early stages, a person may even be aware of their diminishing memory capacity. Even during the later stages of dementia, some moments of clarity are possible. For those who ask themselves, “What does it feel like to have dementia?” the answer can be complex because not everyone experiences it the same way.
9. Myth: Dementia is caused by exposure to aluminum.
Fact: There is no connection between dementia and aluminum.
Aluminum and dementia were originally linked near the emergence of dementia diagnoses. It was once believed that cooking with aluminum pots and dementia might be related. This belief spread to include theories about drinking from aluminum cans and the development of dementia. Some people also have considered the possibility of an aluminum deodorant-dementia link. However, research has shown that there is no link between exposure to aluminum and development of dementia. Early dementia aluminum toxicity studies focused on animals that were more susceptible to aluminum poisoning, which likely contributed to these false beliefs.
10. Myth: There are no available treatment options for dementia
Fact: Treatment is available to slow the progression of dementia.
Dementia treatment is available, and it is partly determined by the specific type of dementia. Dementia treatment options vary greatly, and some amount of trial and error may be necessary for finding the treatment plan that works best for an individual. Some people have great success with medications while others find that medications do not help their symptoms. Dementia treatment guidelines indicate that treating other conditions that contribute to confusion may also help to reduce the severity of dementia. Some of these conditions include:
- Congestive heart failure
- Thyroid disorders
If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for dementia and a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. To learn more about treatment for co-occurring disorders, contact one of our helpful representatives today.
Alzheimer Society Canada. “Aluminum and dementia: Is there a link?” (n.d.). August 24, 2018.
Medline Plus. “Dementia.” January 19, 2018. Accessed June 14, 2019.
Alzheimer’s Association. “2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” 2019. Accessed June 14, 2019.
Alzheimer’s Association. “Memory Loss and Confusion.” (n.d.). Accessed June 14, 2019.
National Institute on Aging. “If a Family Member Has Alzheimer’s Dis[…]Will I Have It, Too?” (n.d.). Accessed June 14, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging.” March 29, 2016. Accessed June 14, 2019.
National Institute on Aging. “Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Fact Sheet.” August 30, 2015. Accessed June 14, 2019.
Health in Aging Foundation. “Dementia.” September 2017. Accessed June 14, 2019.
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