Six Myths about Alzheimer’s disease
Myth: Consistent memory loss is a normal part of aging
Fact: It is common for people to have occasional memory problems as they age, such as forgetting the name of recent acquaintances or where you set the keys. However, Alzheimer’s disease is much more than occasional memory lapses. Alzheimer’s disease causes brain cells to malfunction and eventually die, which results in memory loss, personality changes and loss of physical faculties.
It can be difficult at first to discern what is normal memory loss and what is something more serious so it is good to track symptoms as clearly as possible. Often, the earliest sign of Alzheimer’s is forgetting recently learned information. Other signs include: lapses in problem-solving skills, difficulty completing familiar tasks and confusion with time or place.
Slideshow: 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s disease
Occasional memory loss can be a sign of a serious illness like a brain tumor, but it more likely means you need to make a to-do list and go to bed earlier.
Myth: Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same condition
Fact: The terms dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably when they should not be. Dementia is any kind of loss in cognitive function from any cause. Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia caused by unique abnormalities in the brain that result in specific symptoms. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease, and dementia associated with drug or alcohol abuse, to name a few.
Myth: Only older people can get Alzheimer’s disease.
Fact: While it is more common for Alzheimer’s to present itself in an older demographic, it also can affect people in their 50s, 40s and even 30s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, approximately 200,000 people under age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. This is known as younger-onset or early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Myth: Alzheimer’s disease is not costly to treat
Fact: Alzheimer’s has an extremely high monetary cost and psychological cost to both the patient and the caregiver. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 15 million family members and other unpaid caregivers provided approximately 17.4 billion hours of care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. In 2011, those hours added up to $210 billion in unpaid caregiving costs.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease costs Medicare three times as much as a person without Alzheimer’s, and in 2012, health care, long-term care and hospice services for people over 65 with Alzheimer’s is expected to cost $200 billion, not including the contributions of unpaid caregivers.
Alzheimer’s also takes a toll on the mental health of the primary caregiver. According to a report in The Atlantic, 8 out of 10 people who look after a relative suffer from anxiety and stress and 25 percent of dementia caregivers become hospitalized themselves.
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Myth: There is a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or medications that can stop its progression
Fact: There is no medication to reverse Alzheimer’s disease and no cure. Researchers learn more about the disease every year, but the FDA-approved drugs available to Alzheimer’s patients only slow the progression of the memory loss and don’t stop it. The medications are effective for about 6 to 12 months in half of the people who take them.
There are ways to make day-to-day living more manageable for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Some of these strategies include establishing a daily routine, finding a support group for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers, and considering respite care or a nursing home when caregiving becomes unmanageable.
Myth: Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal
Fact: Alzheimer’s disease has no survivors. Even with medication, Alzheimer’s will eventually destroy brain cells and cause memory changes, erratic behavior and loss of body function. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth leading cause of death in Americans age 65 and over.
Alzheimer’s Association, (2012) 2012 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. March 2012; 8 131-168. Retrieved from Alzheimer’s Association website:http://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260%2812%2900032-5/abstract.
Villarica, H. (2012, April 19). How to care for your aging loved ones while still taking care of yourself. The Atlantic, Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/how-to-care-for-your-aging-loved-ones-while-still-taking-care-of-yourself/255782/