Dementia is a dangerous syndrome that can severely hamper one’s life. What is worrying is that the condition has spread at an alarming rate throughout the world. Today, around 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Thus, a lot of awareness and understanding of the condition is still badly needed.
Some of the common symptoms of dementia are now well known - deterioration in cognitive function - a severe effect of the disease on memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. However, we still need to understand the syndrome better as there are plenty of myths related to it.
Today, we will look at some of the common myths surrounding dementia that need to be dispelled. Let’s separate fact from fiction.
1. Dementia is unavoidable with age
This is perhaps the most common myth associated with dementia. We generally tend to assume that dementia is inevitable with age. However, this isn’t true and dementia is not a normal part of aging. According to the latest report by the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects 3% of people aged 65–74 years in the US.
This means that the vast majority do not develop dementia in its most common form. However, this is not to say that dementia should be taken lightly. The point is that we shouldn’t just automatically accept that the condition cannot be avoided with age.
2. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the same thing
Now, this is a myth that really needs to be dispelled. While dementia and Alzheimer’s are very closely related, their names are not interchangeable. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that is responsible for almost 60–80% of all dementia cases. Also, not many people are aware that there are other forms of dementia, too - frontotemporal dementia (FTD), vascular dementia, mixed dementia, and Lewy body dementia, being a few of them.
It is important to understand here that dementia is an overall term for a particular group of symptoms. The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as “the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities.” While dementias share some specific characteristics, each type has a separate fundamental pathology.
3. Dementia is not fatal
Most people see dementia as a sad, tough, and depressing disease but not many of us consider it fatal. Unfortunately, the fact is that dementia can indeed be fatal. A recent study, published in JAMA Neurology, states that “approximately 13.6% of deaths were attributable to dementia over the period 2000–2009.” The authors, after examining 7,342 older adults, concluded that dementia had been significantly underreported as a cause of death, especially in cases where the syndrome should have been registered as the main cause.
4. Dementia only affects old people
Old age is, of course, a risk factor for dementia. However, it would be incorrect to be under the illusion that dementia affects only old people. Dementia does affect younger adults, too, albeit in rare cases. In fact, people as young as 30, have been identified with the condition.
A 2017 study published in the European Journal of Neurology found that between 38 and 260 people per 100,000 individuals experience the onset of dementia between 30 and 64 years of age. Furthermore, in the 55–64 age bracket, this increases to close to 420 people in 100,000. Health experts say that a lot of things that we do in our formative years can play a role in the development of dementia. Further research is needed in this regard.
Some of the common types of dementia that affect younger adults are Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, and Korsakoff's syndrome.
5. Dementia is genetic
Another common myth associated with dementia is that it is genetic. Many believe that if someone in the family has been diagnosed with dementia, the others are guaranteed to develop the condition later in life. This is false.
Some forms of dementia do have a genetic element but the majority of cases do not have a strong genetic link. Rather than genetic factors, the most important risk factor for dementia is age.
6. Vitamins and supplements can prevent dementia
The thought of developing dementia can be a frightening prospect. To prevent or reduce the risk of the condition, many people also take vitamins or mineral supplements. However, there is no evidence to date that vitamins can prevent dementia. A 2018 review conducted by the Cochrane Library aimed to explore this question. The researchers took data from more than 83,000 participants across 28 included studies.
The analysis states that: “We did not find evidence that any vitamin or mineral supplementation strategy for cognitively healthy adults in mid or late life has a meaningful effect on cognitive decline or dementia, although the evidence does not permit definitive conclusions.”
7. Memory loss is always a sign of dementia
If you know someone who is experiencing memory loss issues, does that mean they have dementia? Not necessarily. While memory loss can be an early symptom of dementia it doesn’t always indicate the beginning of the condition. Memory issues are generally an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease but not for all forms of dementia. Some of the early signs and symptoms of frontotemporal dementia, for instance, are language difficulties, obsessive behavior, and changes in mood and personality.
Also, remember that human memory is unpredictable. All of us tend to forget things from time to time. However, if you, or someone you know, are experiencing regular memory loss, it would be best to consult your doctor.
8. Dementia marks the end of a fulfilling life
One of the biggest fears associated with dementia is that once you get it, you can’t lead a meaningful life. In fact, many assume that once they are diagnosed with dementia, they can’t even go out to walk alone. Health experts, however, say this isn’t true.
“Too many people are in the dark about dementia — many feel that a dementia diagnosis means someone is immediately incapable of living a normal life, while myths and misunderstandings continue to contribute to the stigma and isolation that many people will feel,” explains Jeremy Hughes, former Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society.
Many dementia patients across the world are leading active and purposeful lives. Yes, dementia affects your way of life and you would have to make certain adjustments to it as the condition advances. However, in many cases, people with mild cases of dementia need not make any changes to their life at all. Even when the condition worsens, it doesn’t mean that a person cannot lead a satisfying life. All you will need is proper care and support.
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