Debunking Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease

Ray Burow avatar

by Ray Burow |

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There’s a lot unknown about Alzheimer’s disease, and many myths surround the mind-altering disease. It’s necessary to separate fact from fiction. As misnomers are addressed, it removes some of the stigmas attached to Alzheimer’s. Because knowledge is power, it delivers hope to people who fear developing the most common form of dementia.

Ignore the myths and engage with the truth about Alzheimer’s disease.

Myth 1: Only older adults develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Fact: Your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, but it is not a natural part of aging. For most people with Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms surface in their 60s, but Alzheimer’s can appear as early as 30. The condition is diagnosed as early-onset if detected between 30 and mid-60.

People are misled into believing that Alzheimer’s is an old-age disease, perhaps because as we live longer, Alzheimer’s has a greater chance of developing. The symptoms become more apparent as the disease progresses.

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How to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Myth 2: Alzheimer’s disease is a mental illness.

Fact: Alzheimer’s disease is not a mental illness. It is a brain disease that, over time, creates severe memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative condition that will eventually affect the person’s whole life, including making sound decisions and carrying out simple daily activities.

A person in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease needs assistance with basic tasks. As significant disruption to everyday life and activities is expected in the late stages of the disease, such disruptions are most often nonexistent in the early years, which is why diagnosis is crucial. With an early diagnosis, preparing for your future and taking steps to slow disease progression are possible.

There’s not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet. Still, medications and attention to risk factors assist in slowing its devastating march, allowing those diagnosed to live their best lives for as long as possible.

Myth 3: Alzheimer’s isn’t treatable.

Fact: There isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications to treat people who have it.

Aduhelm (aducanumab) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and released to the public last year. The drug, developed by Biogen and administered by infusion, is appropriate for people in the early stages of the disease. It targets beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. While it isn’t a cure, it is the first, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, to address the “underlying biology of the disease.”

Even though there’s not a cure at this time, other medications address disease symptoms and possibly slow progression. Early detection is critical to living your best life with cognitive impairment leading to Alzheimer’s disease.

Myth 4: Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the same.

Fact: Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. It’s the most common type and is irreversible. However, there are several different types of dementia, though Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of them. The following dementias are irreversible and without a cure.

  • Vascular dementia occurs when brain cells are deprived of oxygen due to a blocked artery or arteries.
  • Lewy body dementia results from abnormal deposits in the brain (Lewy bodies) that alter brain chemicals that affect thinking, body movements, and a person’s mood and overall behavior.
  • Frontotemporal dementia affects the front and sides of the brain, causing trouble with behavior and language.
  • Mixed dementia involves several types of dementia at work simultaneously.

All dementias create gradual and damaging changes in the brain that negatively affect cognitive ability and behavior.

Myth 5: You should give up on life if diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Fact: Please do not give up on life.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is devastating news that no one wants to receive, but press on. The road ahead will be difficult, and there are hard days in your future, but not every single day will be hard. There’s still good food to eat, places to see, and, if you’re fortunate, family and friends to love.

A diagnosis is the first step to living your best life with the disease. Enroll in a clinical trial if you can, and pay attention to your physical health. Exercise your body and your brain and follow your doctor’s instructions. If possible, choose a loved one who is willing to share your journey.

If, like my mother, you’re a person of faith, lean in, “casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7, King James Version). My mother believed that “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, King James Version). This includes Alzheimer’s disease, which was comforting to her and to our family. Perhaps you can find purpose in your faith, too.

Seek help from a health professional who specializes in dementia and also seek professional counseling if necessary, but don’t give up. There are ways to cope with the disease, and there are hundreds of organizations and thousands of resource materials to help you navigate this journey.

Also, a cure is on the horizon. Recent medications and approvals by the FDA are signs that one may be coming, and the Alzheimer’s Association claims the first person to be cured is “out there.” Take hope and run with it!


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.

Comments

Joseph D Arrigoni avatar

Joseph D Arrigoni

Thanks Ray for sharing this article. There is much good in it; however, the myth bust of "Alzheimer’s isn’t treatable" doesn't ring true for me. Even Aduhelm is not a for sure home run to stop disease progression. In addition, good luck getting someone to proscribe it - and then even if you do - finding a way to pay for it or not getting ARIA (40+% for some populations).

And any other "treatment" is just bailing water on the Titanic. This disease doesn't stop. It keeps working day and night. And it irresistibly and progressively robs the victim of their humanity as well as cause severe collateral damage to care givers and family.

Joe A.

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Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Hi Joseph,

Thanks for your comment, and I don't disagree. Let me rephrase, I definitely agree with you that Alzheimer's is "progressive [and] robs the victim..." I have often said, and written that Alzheimer's disease is a thief, robbing the person diagnosed and their entire family. It steals cognitive ability and is a constant assault on the person's dignity. However, there will be a cure one day, and I am hopeful that it will come sooner than later. The current FDA-approved medications on the market, even given the problems surrounding them, give me hope that researchers are on the right track. While it may appear that efforts to treat the disease are similar to "bailing water on the Titanic," early diagnosis, clinical trials, and available treatments are better than the alternative, that is to allow the disease to take its course, consuming the person more quickly, without the opportunity to get their "house in order," or to live their best life possible with the disease. Caregiving is H-A-R-D, not more difficult than having the disease, but for my family, we were able by God's grace, to keep my mother's dementia at bay for a good number of years, before the disease took her. We were grateful for that time, and she was able to enjoy her grandchildren, as we settled into a new normal.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this column and also for commenting.
All the best!

Ray

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Michael Schaffrinna avatar

Michael Schaffrinna

Ms Ray Burow
Thank you for the words of encouragement. I'm sorry for your mother as well as my wife. As a physician, I have read every article and every ray of hope I can find. LIke other diseases, its not fair to the one so afflicted. Faith is helpful but its easy to walk down the road of Job. I've seen the pain of loss in parents who lost their child ... but was still unprepared for the depth of pain I feel for what is happening to my wife. I see her notes trying to hold on to memories/information important to her. I don't think people understand how difficult this illness is on the person with the disease during the early phase and then the impact on those that love them. When the soul cries out I know it is heard ... and as I talk with others whose loved ones are slowly being taken away from them, I know it is a shared cry. To those going thru this personally or to those caring for their loved ones know you are not alone. I know I would trade places with my wife if I could spare her from this disease.

Thank you again

Michael

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Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Dr. Schaffrinna,

Thank you for being a part of this community and sharing your story with us. I agree that the pain of loss is palpable, and "faith is helpful, but it's easy to walk down the road of Job." However, I can't imagine navigating the road through Alzheimer's disease without it. The way is uncharted and painful, so I'm sure, like you, I am grateful for the Good Shepherd Who walks with us through the shadow of death, leading and guarding by His rod and staff. (Psalm 23) I believe, without a doubt, that you'd gladly trade places with your wife to spare her from the throes of Alzheimer's disease. However, swapping places would land her in your shoes, watching the love of her life fail over time, and she'd be your caregiver. We wouldn't wish that on our loved ones, and I am glad we can leave that decision to someone more significant than ourselves as we continue to trust Him with the uncertainties. As you said, "when the soul cries out, I am sure it is heard." Thank you for shouldering the burden of caregiving for your wife with unconditional love, and thank you again for your transparency.

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