5 Myths about Dementia

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1. It is usually inherited (FALSE)

People are more likely to have dementia in later years, so in a family where everyone lives to be 100, about half of you may have dementia, but only because the frequency of dementia rises to 50% for everyone over the age of 90.

If your family has inherited vascular disease, like high blood pressure, and it’s not treated, you may be at greater risk of dementia in later life than other families. That’s not the same as “inheriting dementia” because you can influence it with lifestyle changes.

Sadly some families have a form of dementia that passes down to children genetically and is different from dementia in old age. This happens before the age of 65 usually so it’s called early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Only a few hundred families in the world have this genetic problem. Even in these families lifestyle changes can make a difference to the rate of the development of symptoms.

2. It is a normal part of aging (FALSE)

Lots of people grow old and die without ever having dementia. If you think of it as a normal part of ageing there is a danger that you will miss opportunities to help people age well. So you need to regard any confusion or memory loss in an older person, particularly if it comes on quickly, as something with a treatable cause.

The older person may be dehydrated, or constipated or suffering from a urinary tract infection. These may make them confused, but if you think confusion is normal, you might not think get those problems treated.

If you want to know more about causes of confusion that can be reversed, look at Dementia, the One Stop Guide or When Someone You Know has Dementia

3. There is nothing you can do (FALSE)

There is a lot that you can do. Exercise is very important as is eating and drinking right. You can reduce symptoms with lifestyle changes as well as changes in your environment. Just increasing the light level at home can make more difference in some people than the medication does.

There are lots of websites with good information but you can start with the website of the national Alzheimer’s organisation in your own country. You can find a list of them on the Alzheimer’s Disease International website.

Don’t be put off by the name. They can advise on every sort of dementia; not just Alzheimer’s dementia.

4. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are exactly the same things (FALSE)

Dementia is the word used for the symptoms that people with Alzheimer’s disease often display, but other diseases can also cause dementia. For example vascular disease causes dementia. This is why people who have had a stroke, or other signs that their blood vessels are not in good shape might go on to have dementia.

The disease process in Alzheimer’s disease is different and involves shrinking of brain cells and abnormal deposits in the brain tissues. Dementia symptoms include memory loss, difficult in learning new things or working things out, and a lot of other problems as wide ranging as balance problems or hallucinations.

The cluster of symptoms depends on the underlying disease, but the symptoms are described as dementia.

5. People with dementia are unpredictable and prone to violent outbursts (FALSE)

Recent newspaper reports about increases in violence against healthcare staff linked this bad situation with the increase in patients in hospital with dementia. To be clear, much of the distressed behaviour involving people with dementia in hospital is entirely predictable.

The problem is that staff sometimes inadvertently cause the sort of stress that can make a person with dementia afraid, and frightened people normally defend themselves against threats.

If families and care staff are given the right knowledge about dementia they can use their own knowledge of the patient to be prepared and to prevent many of the distressing incidents that could take place.