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Myths - Introduction

Over the years, many myths have evolved about what Alzheimer's disease is, who gets it and how it affects people who have it.

  • These myths have influenced the way we feel and act towards people who suffer from dementing illnesses.
  • These myths can add to the stigma attached to the disease and stand in the way of our ability to understand and help people with it.

Some of these myths are quite believable and some not so believable.

By debunking the myths of Alzheimer's disease, the sooner we can respond to the reality and the sooner we dispel the myths associated with victims of this disease.

From the caregiver's point of view .... Simply put .... Get the facts:

1. Learn about the disease,

2. Seek help,

3. Treat people with the disease with respect

Myth # 1 - They're all the same

People with dementia are not all the same, nor are they all affected in the same way. Just because people have similar illnesses it does not mean they will necessarily display the same symptoms. The way that any one person is affected by dementia depends on the part of the brain that is damaged by the disease and the particular disease that he or she suffers from. You will find that even people with the same illness may display different symptoms. People with dementia are still individuals, with distinctive personalities and ways of behaving.

Myth # 2 - They're going through their second childhood. The kindest way to treat them is as though they are children

People with dementia are not children It is true that people with dementing illnesses, particularly those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, gradually unlearn what they previously knew as the brain fails. And, as the disease worsens, they become unable to do some of the things they used to be able to do. Until the disease reaches a severe stage, however, most still have a sense of being an adult with adult needs and feelings. Distress when they realise they are not coping is not unusual. To patronise such a person by treating them as a child will often create feelings of frustration and anger, and add to that distress.

Myth # 3 - There's no point in telling them anything, because it won't register. It doesn't matter what you say in front of them because they won't understand.

Such remarks, often made in front of the person with dementia, can be hurtful. The person may well understand but not be able to tell you so. Always speak to or with the person, not about him or her.

Myth # 4 - Outings such as films, excursions or birthday parties are a waste of time. They don't remember them.

You do not have to remember to enjoy People with dementia have a great capacity for pleasure. If someone forgets an event, it does not mean it was not enjoyed at the time.

Myth # 5 - Don't bother to give them things. They don't know they've got them and will only lose them anyway

It is important for the person with dementia to have as many familiar objects as possible around them to see and to feel. Possessions are part of a person. They are part of the body image and identity and give a feeling of security. In nursing homes or hostels, it is better that the articles are not of great sentimental or monetary value, so that if they are temporarily mislaid, no great harm is done.

Myth # 6 - You need to lock them up or restrain them, otherwise they wander away and get lost.

Not everyone wanders away and gets lost, or has a tendency to do so. Where the route is familiar, some people are capable of going out alone and finding the way back. People who are used to freedom and understand that they are being restricted become frustrated and may try to escape. However people who are at risk of wandering away need to be accommodated in secure areas with ample space for walking.

Myth # 7 - It's a waste of money to buy them good clothes. They don't know/care how they look.

Many dementing people take pride in their appearance and have a clear picture of how they like to look. Some become even more particular about their clothes and hygiene than they were before they contracted the disease. It is true, however, that some do lose interest in themselves and, if left to their own devices, become untidy and scruffy. On occasions this may happen because they cannot tell people how they would like to look. But there is no reason for them not to be nicely dressed in their own clothes.

Myth # 8 - Very brainy people are more at risk of becoming demented than those who are less bright.

Intelligent people are no more at risk of being affected by dementia than anyone else. Dementia can affect anyone, regardless of race, culture, physical fitness, social and socioeconomic status, or intelligence.

Myth # 9 - Some people are so shrewd, they couldn't possibly be demented.

Many dementing people do show a surprising shrewdness. Those who are suspicious will probe and question what is said to them and are quick to pick up an untruth. Others show a surprising cunning, for example, the ability to calculate a complex way of escape from home or nursing home by manipulating locks or finding their way out through a maze of corridors and buildings. Others are capable of deviousness, for example, the diabetic who obtains sweets and chocolates by persuading strangers to buy them for him or her.

 

 

 

Myth # 10 - Alzheimer's is part of the aging process

Alzheimer's is an illness, not a natural part of aging such as wrinkles, gray hair or hair loss for example. Indeed not everyone will go on to suffer with this disease, in fact most don't. This myth comes from the idea that memory loss, the signature of Alzheimer's, was once attributed to old-age with the belief that like the body, the mind slows down. While this is true, the mind does indeed slow down and old-age can cause "forgetfulness", experts now recognize severe memory loss however as the sign of serious illness such as Alzheimer's.

Myth # 11 - Drinking from aluminum cans or eating meals cooked in aluminum pots and pans can cause Alzheimer's disease

Research, testing and debate has proven inconclusive on this subject and experts don't believe aluminum intake or exposure to be a risk factor behind Alzheimer's disease based on this. Although further research is being carried out. Human contact with aluminum whether via the environment or through such things as cans of Cola or cooking utensils made from the material is unavoidable. However our intake of aluminum is very low due to the insoluble forms it often comes in. It is believed that the average human intake of aluminum is anywhere between 30 and 50 mg per day which is very low and not considered harmful at all. Testing on rats which share most of our genetic makeup believe it or not has shown that exposure to greater intakes of aluminum, double the average, didn't effect thinking area or memory area of the brain significantly enough to cause alarm.

Myth # 12 - A bang to the head can cause Alzheimer's disease

While research and study has shown that the disease is quite common in people who have suffered with some form of head injury at some stage of their life, there is no real direct link that head injuries are a direct cause of Alzheimer's, although previous brain trauma is clearly now identified as a potential risk factor.

Myth # 13 - I'm not at risk because no-one in my family has ever suffered with Alzheimer's disease before

Statistics show that you are more likely to develop the disease if there is no real history of the disease in your family. There are two types of Alzheimer's disease; familial Alzheimer's disease and sporadic Alzheimer's disease. Familial Alzheimer's is a hereditary form of the disease and is passed on through the genes, however this form only accounts for 5% of all cases. Sporadic Alzheimer's is much more common and is caused by many factors.

Myth # 14 - Men are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than women

Alzheimer's disease affects both men and women that is true but it is believed to be more common in women. The reason for this claim scientists is due to the fact that women live longer than their opposite sex so are more likely to develop the disease at some stage of their life.

Myth # 15 - Alzheimer's disease can be cured

Sadly there is no known medically proven cure for Alzheimer's disease or treatment that can stop the progression of the disease. However some drugs have temporarily proven sufficient in helping with memory loss and other thinking difficulties associated with Alzheimer's. Research and study is plentiful and with modern medicine, new techniques and more and more money being pumped into finding a cure, scientists are one day hopeful that they can develop a tangible method of treatment for the disease.

Myth # 16 - Alzheimer's is a death sentence

While Alzheimer's can lead or contribute to death, the disease isn't nor shouldn't be considered a death sentence because it isn't. Some sufferers learn to live with their condition and with the help of loved ones and good treatment, sufferers can enjoy life just as much as those who don't suffer from the disease.

Myth # 17 - There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease

At this time, there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. FDA-approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.

Myth # 18 - Alzheimer's is a madness!

Although, some Alzheimer’s disease patients have behavioural symptoms, these are an integral part of the disease process. Under NO circumstances should this be considered to be ‘madness’. The patients are unable to control their behaviour and therefore, appropriate treatment is necessary. Although psychiatrists do treat Alzheimer’s disease, every patient treated by them is not ‘mad’.

Myth # 19 - He has no memory problem, he can remember all about his childhood.

In Alzheimer’s disease, memory for old events is preserved till the advanced stages of the disease. In the early stages, the ability to learn new things is impaired. Since the common man assumes that memory for old events is more important, some patients are not brought to the doctor in the early stages of the disease. Even if a patient with changes in intellectual capability is taken to a doctor, general physicians with limited experiencein treating Alzheimer’s disease will rarely make a specific diagnosis of this disease. Although awareness is increasing, many misconceptions prevail among medical practitioners.