Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., affects an estimated 6 million Americans, the majority of whom are 65 and older. However, not every “senior moment” is a sign that you are developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s important to understand how the disease progresses and how to know the difference between normal aging, and symptoms of a deeper mental health issue.
Consider these common misconceptions around Alzheimer’s and dementia, so that you may arm yourself with the knowledge to seek treatment should you or a loved one experience these signs.
Myth #1: Developing Alzheimer’s or dementia is a typical part of aging.
Many people have trouble with memory loss, but it does not mean they have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is more severe — a disorder that wreaks havoc on the brain, destroying normal functions like memory, communication, metabolism, and cell repair. Only 10% of Americans 65 and older have Alzheimer's dementia. If you believe you are suffering from common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, it is best to visit a doctor to determine the cause.
Myth #2: If I experience memory loss, that means I have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
Over time, many of our physical and mental capabilities, including memory, can start to weaken naturally. However, there is a difference between forgetting where you parked the car at the grocery store and a disease like Alzheimer’s.
While Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can range in severity, in most cases the memory loss is significant enough to interfere with a person’s day-to-day activities. For example: having trouble remembering or recognizing a familiar location or face.
Myth #3: If Alzheimer’s disease runs in your family, genetic testing can tell you whether you will get it.
Having a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s disease does increase the risk of developing the disease and more so if more than one family member has been diagnosed, but that only increases the risk, it does not guarantee it will or will not happen.
Genetics isn’t the only risk factor either; age is actually the biggest risk factor and other factors like head trauma and poor heart health could also increase the chance of developing one of the many types of dementia.
Myth #4: There’s no point in getting diagnosed, because Alzheimer’s is not curable or treatable. It will just upset my family and me, so why do it?
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, early diagnosis is important in order to allow families time to prepare, ensure that the person with Alzheimer’s can make key decisions about their care, and an opportunity to try some of the treatments to help curb symptoms.
Current treatment options can help minimize the signs and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and their loved ones. You could be prescribed medication to help with the symptoms of memory loss or receive guidance on lifestyle choices that can reduce the risk of cognitive decline like exercising, eating a balanced diet, and challenging your mind with brain puzzles.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s Community Connect program designed to help those living with Alzheimer’s to continue to socialize and take part in events and activities to stimulate the brain.
Myth #5: You don’t need a complete set of diagnostic tests to know if you have Alzheimer’s disease.
Early treatment is best, but you have to know what you’re treating. There are many things that can cause memory loss and it is important to be thoroughly assessed. A primary care doctor may recommend a physician, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists can provide specific treatment for the various ways the disease can affect daily activities.
Other signs of Alzheimer’s you need to look out for:
- Forgetting recently learned information easily.
- Having difficulty following a plan or working with numbers.
- Having trouble remembering how to get to a familiar location.
- Losing track of time, the days, or the seasons.
- Having difficulty reading or judging distances.
- Having trouble following a conversation or finding the right word.
- Misplacing items and unable to retrace their steps.
- Experiencing regular poor decision making.
- Avoiding social activities or hobbies.
- Becoming easily confused, depressed, or anxious.
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Photo credit: Pornpak Khunatorn