Caregiver helps Alzheimer's patient

Directly or through a family member, Alzheimer’s disease affects more people than you can imagine. It is a severe mental disease that has been misunderstood for years. Many people attribute myths to the ailment and only within the past few years has it been accepted as a disease and not an inevitable result of aging. In our assisted living community in Montgomery, we see the disease first-hand. To aid in understanding, here are five common myths surrounding Alzheimer’s.

Myth #1: Dementia is Alzheimer’s

Truth: While everyone with Alzheimer’s does have dementia, there are many different kinds of dementia. Dementia is a common term for a progressively disabling disease that creates and worsens cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s is the most common disease to cause dementia, and it makes up about 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. While some mental problems can be prevented with supplements or mental exercise, there is no scientific proof that vitamins or other substances can dramatically prevent dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.

Myth #2: Alzheimer’s Is a Natural Step in Aging That Happens to Everyone

Truth: While often age related, Alzheimer’s is not caused by age alone. Only certain people get Alzheimer’s; it is not simply the aging breakdown of the brain as was the general consensus before. Alzheimer’s happens when the proteins of the amyloid-beta in the brain form plaque and tangle. This causes a muddling of the brain function leading to cognitive decline. High risk individuals are advanced in age or have a family history of Alzheimer’s, but that does not mean it should be considered a normal part of the aging process. It’s also important to note that it is not all about genetics. No single gene is linked to the development of the disease so it is not a given occurrence if found in your family.

Myth #3: Alzheimer’s is Severe from the Start

Truth: Most patients are not diagnosed with the disease until they have been suffering from it for several years. The symptoms are normally so gradual that many people mistake them for normal aging issues. On average, Alzheimer’s takes 10 years to slowly develop; therefore a sufferer may show little more than what is expected at their age. Learn about five possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Myth #4: There Is a Cure

Truth: Several medical prescriptions have been approved by the FDA to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s. However, no known drug has been discovered that can cure the disease, only slow or reduce its effects. Scientists are working hard every day to try to find a cure. Scientists recently found the origin for Alzheimer’s, and the Senate just increased the budge on its research, so hopefully a cure will be found for this disease soon.

Myth #5: The Prevalence of Alzheimer’s is Increasing

Truth: Quite the contrary. In recent years, the percentage of aging adults who have the disease has declined. There are more patients now because of the baby boomers, and thus, the total number of cases is growing with the increased senior population. We now have more knowledge on things that cause Alzheimer’s and people are able to stay away from certain risk factors. Likewise, with expanding knowledge on these types of mental diseases doctors now diagnose people earlier than they did in the past. Quicker diagnosis in recent years causes an inflation of the numbers.

Amy McWilliams works for Cottage Assisted Living, an assisted living community in Montgomery, Alabama.

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