18 Myths About Alzheimer's: The Top Info Out There That's Wrong

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Certain myths around Alzheimer's can spike misunderstanding and even fear around the condition. 

1. Dental Fillings Cause Alzheimer's

While some amalgam fillings may contain a small amount of mercury along with other types of metal, the thought that this could affect brain health has not been supported by research. The Alzheimer's Association notes that "according to the best available scientific evidence, there is no relationship between silver dental fillings and Alzheimer's." 

Unless scientific research comes out that reaches a different conclusion, you're better off focusing simply on keeping your teeth clean and healthy. In fact, some research shows that brushing your teeth can go a long ways towards saving your brain

2. Aluminum Pans Cause Alzheimer's

Most research has not demonstrated a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease, although a couple of studies have called that conclusion into question. Aluminum is found naturally in the earth, so while it has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, the association is questionable. Many scientists recommend focusing instead on other ways to reduce your risk of dementia, such as the nine factors that you have clear control over. 

3. If I Forget Something, I Must Be Getting Dementia

While memory loss can be a sign of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia, it can also be an indicator of a reversible condition that needs treatment.

Additionally, in some types of dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia, memory may remain pretty functional in the early stages.

4. Alzheimer's Disease Is Worse than Dementia

I've often heard people say, "The doctor said he has dementia. I'm so glad it's not Alzheimer's disease!" While I empathize with their concern about receiving an Alzheimer's diagnosis and their relief in the ability to call those symptoms a different name, I also know that it's important to help people understand their diagnosis.

Alzheimer's disease is one type of dementia. If you're not sure what kind of dementia you or your loved one has, ask the doctor these questions so that you will know more about what to expect and what you can do in response to the diagnosis. 

5. Memory Loss Is an Expected and Normal Part of Aging

After our twenties, some decline in speed and memory can be expected, but in general, cognitive functioning remains about the same as you age. It's not normal to struggle to remember basic things like how to make a pot of coffee or where you live.

Reviewing these 10 early warning signs of dementia can help you differentiate between normal memory loss and warning signs that you should discuss with a physician.

6. Flu Shots Cause Alzheimer's

A physician (whose license was later suspended) suggested a theory that concluded that flu shots were linked to a much greater risk of Alzheimer's disease. However, since then, there is not research that supports this idea. Instead, one study found a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease in those who had received the flu vaccination.

Additionally, other research has concluded that flu shots are correlated with a decreased risk of all-cause death.

7. It's Just Mean to Tell Someone They Have Dementia 

There's a thought out there that goes like this: "You shouldn't tell a person that the doctor has diagnosed him with dementia because it will only make him upset. He's better off not knowing." This kind of thinking is so common that more than half of people with Alzheimer's are not being told their diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

While talking with someone about a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, vascular dementia, or Lewy body dementia is difficult, withholding a diagnosis is typically not the solution and often compounds the problem. Ethically, the person has the right to be aware of their diagnoses. Additionally, being informed as early as possible about a dementia diagnosis can help her make wise choices about her care and her future. Not telling a loved one or patient that they have dementia is perhaps easiest at the moment, but it's not the right approach.  

8. Only Old People Get Dementia 

While the risk of dementia increases significantly with age, there are also some people who are younger than 65 who develop it. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that approximately 200,000 people are living with early onset dementia in the United States. Early onset (or younger age dementia) often affects people in the 40's or 50's, and it has a different set of challenges since many of these individuals are working and have families that they're raising at this time. Support groups can be encouraging for those with early onset dementia, as well as for their families and friends.

Some of the more common types of younger onset dementia include early onset Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia, HIV/AIDS associated dementia, Huntington's disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.    

9. Aspartame Causes Alzheimer's

The idea that aspartame (a substitute for sugar) causes Alzheimer's disease has been spread around through emails and social media, but there's little science to back this claim. The Alzheimer's Association considers this claim to be a myth, and states that the FDA has not found any scientific evidence to support the idea.

There has been some research, however, that unfortunately concluded that consuming high amounts of sugar may not be so healthy for our brains.

10. Visiting a Person with Dementia Isn't Worth It Because They'll Quickly Forget You Were There 

This idea is incorrect in many ways. First, sometimes the visit is beneficial for you, not just the person living with dementia. Second, dementia affects people differently. While it impacts short-term memory for some, other people might have a harder time with word-finding and decision-making skills but remember that you visited with them. And third, research says that the feelings created by the visit often last longer than the specific memory of the visit. In other words, long after you leave and even if the person has forgotten that you were there, the good feelings that come from sitting down together for a cup of coffee and a chat may remain. 

11. My Parents Have Dementia So I Will, too. There's Nothing I Can Do to Change That

Yes and no. There are only a few hundred people known to have familial Alzheimer's disease where a deterministic gene (a gene that causes the disease, rather than just makes it more likely to develop) for Alzheimer's is passed down from parent to child.

In others, there is a higher risk if your parents have dementia; however, not everyone who has a parent with dementia will develop dementia themselves. Science has found that often, there appear to be many factors that contribute to the risk of dementia. In fact, one study concluded that nine factors that were all modifiable (typically able to be affected by lifestyle and health choices) accounted for the majority of all dementia cases. Therefore, even if you're at an increased risk from genetics and family history, there's still a lot you can do to decrease your risk.

12. Coconut Oil Can Cure Alzheimer's Disease

Coconut oil has been cited as a way to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease. However, we're still waiting on research to back up this claim. There have been a few people that have cited examples of a loved one dramatically improving after taking coconut oil. While these stories are encouraging, thus far, scientific research studies have not confirmed this.

There is one study being conducted by the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute of the University of South Florida that is addressing this question, and many are eager to hear those results.

13. You Can Successfully Treat Alzheimer's 

Some day, this will hopefully be true. Currently, however, we have only four medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer's disease, and at best, they give a slight pause in the progression of the disease. 

14. There's No Use Going to the Doctor if You Have Symptoms of Dementia because Nothing Can Be Done

Let's imagine that you have taken the SAGE at-home dementia screening test and it indicates a concern with your cognitive abilities. Why even go to the doctor? There's no cure for Alzheimer's, so why pay money to hear a physician confirm that you have dementia?

Here's why. Not only are there many benefits to early detection of dementia, but the physician can also conduct other tests to determine if there are reversible and treatable causes—instead of dementia—for your symptoms.

15. You Can Prevent Dementia 

While we can't prevent dementia 100%, the key here is that we absolutely can reduce our chances of getting dementia through eating a healthy diet, physical exercise, and mental activity. However, we can't conclusively prevent Alzheimer's and other types of dementia from occurring. Not yet. 

16. Life Isn't Worth Living If You Have Dementia

Dementia is a life-changing diagnosis and it's often associated with many challenges and losses. However, it's still possible to facilitate quality of life for people who have dementia. Several research studies have been conducted both by observation and by direct interviews with people who are living with dementia to identify specific ways to improve their quality of life. It can be encouraging to hear of others who are able to live with meaning and joy despite a diagnosis of dementia.

17. People with Dementia Become Like Children and Respond Well to Being Treated that Way

Because you might need to adjust how you speak to someone who has dementia, some people think that using "baby language"—speaking in a high pitch voice, using terms of endearment instead of names, and approaching the person as if they were a child—is helpful. The truth? It's not. This practice has been termed "Elderspeak." It's patronizing and has been correlated in research with an increase in challenging behaviors in people with dementia. (That's not hard for me to imagine!)

18. Scientists Really Don't Want to Find a Cure for Dementia Because They're Making Money from the Disease

I've heard this theory proposed by some who are convinced there's a conspiracy by drug companies and researchers to not find a way to successfully treat and prevent Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia.

While I can't cite specific research to prove otherwise, I do know that some medical researchers are devoting their entire medical career to finding a way to defeat Alzheimer's. And, while pharmacy companies do have a large financial stake here, they stand to benefit far more if a way to successfully treat Alzheimer's was developed.

From my chair, although corruption and hidden motives are plenty, this theory can be clearly tossed out the window. Many physicians, researchers, and organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Association, are working tirelessly with the goal of treating and curing Alzheimer's disease one day. 

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's Myths. Accessed October 17, 2015. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp

Alzheimer's Society. Canada. Myths and realities about Alzheimer's disease. February 20, 2015. http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/Alzheimer-s-disease/Myth-and-reality-about-Alzheimer-s-disease

Dementia Care Australia. Myths about Dementia. Accessed November 20, 2015. http://www.dementiacareaustralia.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=81.

Dementia Dynamics. Myths about Dementia. December 6, 2011. http://dementiadynamics.com/myths-about-dementia/

Dementia Support. Dementia Myths. Accessed November 20, 2015. http://www.dementiasupport.ca/alzheimers-disease-and-dementia/dementia-myths/

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