Alzheimer's Disease
11Sep, 2019

Alzheimer’s Disease – separating the facts from the myths

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | September 11th, 2019

Occasionally experiencing difficulty remembering things is normal, especially as we age. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign of Alzheimer’s Disease, a type of dementia. Because the disease is baffling and affects people at random, there is a lot of confusion about Alzheimer’s, what causes it, what treatment is available and the long term prognosis. We separate the facts from the myths:

Myth
Only old people get Alzheimer’s
Fact
While most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years or older, around 5 %  are in their 40s or 50s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s may be more aggressive and patients may deteriorate more rapidly than those diagnosed later in life. Younger people with the disease are also more likely to be mis-diagnosed, with their symptoms being attributed to stress, menopause, or depression.

Myth
Alzheimer’s symptoms are just a normal part of ageing
Fact
Some memory loss is natural as we age, but memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is more serious. In the early stages, patients may forget important dates or events, or ask the same question over and over. As the disease progresses, they become more disoriented and confused. They may not be capable of caring for themselves, or finding their way back home if they go out. They may also become aggressive or even violent as a result of the confusion, fear, and frustration that Alzheimer’s causes. In the later stages, people with Alzheimer’s may lose the ability to eat and talk.

Myth
If someone can remember incidents from their childhood in detail, they don’t have Alzheimer’s.
Fact
Patients in the early stages of the disease may have clear recollections of people and events from their childhood, but be unable to remember something that happened 20 minutes ago. That’s because the disease typically begins in the part of the brain where new experiences or memories are stored. Sadly, even those lasting, long-term memories will also fade over time.

Myth
Alzheimer’s Disease is preventable.
Fact
Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented in those with the specific genetic mutation linked to the disease. However, regular exercise, a healthy diet and not smoking can support brain health. Several studies have also shown that maintaining social contacts and staying mentally active may strengthen connections between the nerve cells and the brain and help lower the risk of cognitive decline.

Myth
With the correct treatment, Alzheimer’s can be cured, or at least prevented from getting worse.
Fact
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that cannot be cured. Some drugs (cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine) may help treat the cognitive symptoms (memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning). Supplements such as vitamins E, B, and C, gingko biloba, folate, and selenium have been tested but results have been inconclusive.

Myth
Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by exposure to aluminium pots and pans, antacids, antiperspirants, aspartame (an artificial sweetener) or flu shots.
Fact
Numerous studies have been conducted to find out if these products have any effect on cognitive function, and so far there is no evidence to support any of these theories. A 2001 report in the Canadian Medical Journal suggested that older adults who received vaccinations for flu and other diseases actually had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. They also avoided the very real risks of flu which can be dangerous for the elderly.

Myth
Head injuries cause Alzheimer’s.
Fact
Some research has shown that moderate to severe traumatic brain injury can increase the risk of an individual developing Alzheimer’s disease, even years after the initial injury. However, not everyone who experiences severe head trauma will develop Alzheimer’s, and more research is needed to understand the possible link.

Myth
If your parent developed Alzheimer’s, you will too.
Fact
Unfortunately, research has shown that those with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with the disease have a higher risk of developing it themselves. If your parent had early-onset Alzheimer’s and you have the specific genetic mutation for the early-onset type, you will definitely develop the disease. A deterministic gene is one that directly causes a disease, while risk genes are those that increase the likelihood of developing a disease, but it is not guaranteed.

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