Good Afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today’s topic is The Truth about Alzheimer’s.
Which of these statements is false?
- Alzheimer’s is an old person’s disease.
- Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging.
- Alzheimer’s is just about losing your memory.
- There is a test for Alzheimer’s.
All of them are false.
Alzheimer’s disease is often misunderstood. It’s not just about losing your memory. This disease slowly overtakes your brain and its functions. Sufferers gradually lose their ability to learn, reason, make decisions, communicate and perform daily activities. Although AD can be diagnosed with 90% accuracy, examining brain tissue after death is the only way an exact determination can be made.
Let’s talk about some of the myths surrounding Alzheimer’s.
MYTH: Memory loss is a natural part of aging.
REALITY: As we get older, it’s normal to have occasional memory problems, like forgetting the name of someone you just met. AD is more than that. This disease causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die. When this happens, you may forget the name of a childhood friend or how to find your way home. It’s not always easy to distinguish normal problems from those that should be cause for concern. If you or a loved one has memory problems or other problems with thinking and learning, you should contact your physician. Sometimes the problems are caused by medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies or other conditions that can be reversed with treatment.
MYTH: Alzheimer’s is an “old” person’s disease.
REALITY: Popular belief was that Alzheimer’s was an “old person’s” disease. Not so. Even those in their 40s and 50s can be afflicted with AD. Two types of Alzheimer’s have been identified: early and late onset. Late onset is more common. Affecting those over age 60, this type of AD is less likely to be genetic. Persons with early onset Alzheimer’s develop symptoms before 60. While this type accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of all instances, progression is faster and it’s known to run in families.
MYTH: Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same thing.
REALITY: Dementia isn’t a specific disease rather the term refers to a group of symptoms that can be caused by several different brain disorders. It’s characterized by impaired brain functioning, like memory loss, language difficulty, decreased perception and impaired reasoning. Alzheimer’s is just one of many types of dementia, accounting for between 60 to 80% of all dementia cases. Another difference is that Alzheimer’s is degenerative and there is currently no cure. On the other hand, depending on the cause of the dementia, the symptoms may be reversible.
MYTH: There is a test for Alzheimer’s.
REALITY: There is no blood or imaging test that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. Instead, a diagnosis is largely made by ruling out all the other possible causes for symptoms. This involves reviewing personal and medical histories and blood, neurological and imaging tests. An autopsy can be performed to look for physical markers in the brain that can’t be seen with those tests.
MYTH: Alzheimer’s isn’t fatal.
REALITY: Because Alzheimer’s most commonly occurs among the elderly, those suffering from it often die of other causes, such as stroke, heart disease and cancer. The disease itself is a progressive condition that can ultimately lead to death. Depending on the age at diagnosis, someone with AD could live many years with the disease.
MYTH: Medication can stop Alzheimer’s.
REALITY: The Food and Drug Administration has approved several medications that might help slow the progression of the disease but they aren’t considered “cures.” A number of individuals who take these drugs have side effects and others don’t respond at all. For about one in three people taking these medications can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s for six months to a year. While that might not sound like a lot of time, for those sufferers and their families, time is precious.
MYTH: Alzheimer’s symptoms are reversible.
REALITY: There are two possible reasons why people may believe this myth. The first is that they’ve known someone who was misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s and then correctly treated for another condition. Causes of similar but reversible symptoms include thyroid problems, vitamin deficiency, depression, even medication. The other factor underlying this myth is that advertising for Alzheimer’s medications sometimes suggests dramatic symptom relief instead of a subtler stabilization of symptoms, which is what really happens.
MYTH: Depression causes Alzheimer’s.
REALITY: According to Kevin Duff, PhD, of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care, Imaging and Research at the University of Utah, depression and Alzheimer’s disease can be related but there’s no evidence that depression causes Alzheimer’s. Instead, depression may occur with the onset of symptoms because people are afraid their changing abilities signal dementia. Doctors try to treat depression because that seems to improve the individual’s day-to-day functioning.
MYTH: It takes more effort to overcome dementia symptoms.
REALITY: Frustrated caregivers and family members may believe their loved one would function better and retain memory skills with a little more effort. Not true. Alzheimer’s disease is a deterioration of the brain. No amount of effort can overcome that. According to Dr. Huff, however, physical activity and cognitive exercises, such as crossword puzzles and socializing, seem to improve quality of life and slow the progression of the disease.
MYTH: Flu shots can trigger Alzheimer’s.
REALITY: There’s no medical reason to believe your annual flu shot can cause Alzheimer’s. There’s more evidence that seniors who get the flu shot actually are at a decreased risk for developing the disease.
MYTH: I can care for my loved one with Alzheimer’s by myself.
REALITY: Caregivers have a tendency to want to do it all themselves. I know that’s how my father was for the longest time. For whatever reason, pride, a sense of obligation, love or something else, many caregivers don’t want to ask for help. The truth is caregivers need support and about eight waking hours to themselves every week. Those who get a break provide better care than those who don’t.
MYTH: Aspartame causes memory loss.
REALITY: This artificial sweetener, marketed under brand names like NutraSweet and Equal, was approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for use in all foods and beverages in 1996. Since then, concerns about the health effects of aspartame have been raised. According to the FDA, no scientific evidence has been presented that would lead to changing its conclusions on the safety of aspartame for most people.
MYTH: Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s.
REALITY: During the 1960s and ‘70s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources, such as pots and pans and beverage cans. Since then, studies haven’t been able to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s and few experts believe everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope the information I shared was helpful.
Join me at 1 pm Saturday when I’ll discuss Alzheimer’s Causes.