by Morgan Cutolo
photos courtesy of Reader’s Digest
A complex neurological condition that strikes more than 5 million Americans, Alzheimer’s disease is complicated and scary. But misconceptions about Alzheimer’s risk factors and ways to prevent Alzheimer’s can stand in the way of your health.
Alzheimer and dementia are two separate things
“You may hear people explaining that their loved one has both Alzheimer’s and dementia, when in fact, Alzheimer’s is under the ‘umbrella’ of dementia. They are not two separate things. There are over 100 different forms of dementia, each type comes with a variety of different symptoms.” —Phoebe James, the director of resident engagement at Wentworth Senior Living. This is the real difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s isn’t treatable
“One of the biggest myths about Alzheimer’s and related dementias is that they aren’t treatable. The brain is like any other organ, and responds positively to lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, social engagement, and puzzles/challenges.” —Nick Bott, Psy.D.
All people who have Alzheimer’s disease become violent and irritable
“While it is true that Alzheimer’s can cause personality changes and mood swings, not all of those changes include violent ones. As an in-home care company specializing in memory care, we tend to work with a lot of clients who are already pretty far along on their journey with this disease. More than anything, we see clients who are simply frustrated with their own memory loss and confusion. Some of the best practices for helping a loved one experiencing Alzheimer’s personality changes is to remain calm and engage in good listening.” —Scott Knoll, owner of By Your Side Home Care, an elderly in-home caregiving agency specializing in Alzheimer’s services. These everyday habits will reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is not an inherited disease
“This is wrong at two levels. First, some people do inherit single mutations that cause this disease, although those are rare; and second, others develop it due to many small inherited risks which work together with an unhealthy lifestyle to induce this disease.” —Hermona Soreq, a neuroscientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Edmund and Lily Sarfra Center for Brain Science.
There are supplements that can help prevent Alzheimer’s
“There have yet to be any studies proving the ability of vitamins, herbal products, or medications to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, a healthy lifestyle including frequent physical activity, heart-healthy diets, and control of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes could help reduce the likelihood. While there is no conclusive evidence directly linking these lifestyle changes to preventing Alzheimer’s, they have been shown in some studies to promote increased brain health which could ultimately play a key role in thwarting the disease.” —Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan, Chief Scientific Officer at Clover Health.
Alzheimer’s disease is a normal part of aging
“Although changes in the brain occur with age starting in our mid-twenties, Alzheimer’s disease is NOT a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in the United States and age is the greatest known risk factor to developing Alzheimer’s disease, especially after the age of eighty.” —Dr. Krystal L. Culler, DBH, MA, Oscar Family Director of Menorah Park Center 4 Brain Health™, Senior Atlantic Fellow- Global Brain Health Institute. This is what neurologists do to prevent Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s only affects the elderly
“One myth that I commonly hear about Alzheimer’s is that the condition solely affects the elderly population. Though we typically hear about the disease occurring more often in older people, there is a small subset of those affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s who may manifest symptoms as early as their 30s and 40s. It is important to note that early-onset Alzheimer’s is less common and genetics may sometimes play a role in increasing the risk for the condition.” —Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, physician and health and wellness expert.
Alzheimer’s is an almost inevitable consequence of aging
“Healthy brain aging is the evolutionary norm, true for 1.8 million years of human history: it’s only a little over one hundred years since Alzheimer’s disease was first described. Faulty brain aging is directly attributable to our modern lifestyle, which is characterized by sleep deprivation, lack of exercise and social engagement, poor nutrition, and exposure to environmental pollutants. These five factors, if corrected or improved, will maintain brain function tiptop for life. In other words, healthy lifestyle choices prevent Alzheimer’s disease.” —Jennie Ann Freiman, MD and author of The SEEDS Plan: Prevent and Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s disease medications will stop the progression of my disease progress
“Despite the current advances in our medical field and understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, there is currently no known medication or supplement that will stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Current medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.” —Dr. Krystal L. Culler. Here’s how to predict whether your memory loss will be Alzheimer’s.
Visiting someone with Alzheimer’s is pointless
“While you may think there is no point in visiting someone who won’t remember you anyways, this is simply not true. Alzheimer’s affects people differently, and relationships are deep and complex. That is to say, just because someone consciously doesn’t remember you, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any subconscious or emotional recognition. It is crucial to maintaining your relationship with the person both for their sake, and your own.” —Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics.
The memory of music is damaged in Alzheimer’s patients
“This has recently been disproven by brain mapping tests which showed that those brain regions that are responsible for memorizing music are last to be damaged in sick persons. It reminds me of a neighbor we had many years ago, who immigrated to Israel from Europe where he’d been a famous opera singer; he had dementia and could not speak one full sentence, but he was singing complete opera solos beautifully!” —Hermona Soreq.
I don’t need to worry about Alzheimer’s disease because no one in my family has it
“It may surprise you to know that you can develop Alzheimer’s disease even if you can’t think of one family member with this disease. We’re all at risk for Alzheimer’s. Remember the statistics I mentioned earlier: We all have a 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease after age 85. Most people diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease do not test positive as carriers for any of the known Alzheimer’s genes.” —Kenneth S. Kosik, MD and author of the book Outsmarting Alzheimer’s. These are 16 things people with Alzheimer’s wish you knew.
People aren’t trying
“A common myth is that people living with Alzheimer’s aren’t doing what the can, and we should push them harder. The brain is dying and people are doing the best they can in that moment. We need to change how we react.” —Christina Chartrand, VP of Training at Senior Helpers, the nation’s leading provider of in-home senior care.
Alzheimer’s disease is in my family; therefore, it is inevitable that I am going to get it too
“It is said that brain health is 30 percent genetics and 70 percent lifestyle. Research is mounting to stress the importance that the way we live our lives across our lifespans is important especially when it comes to late-life brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Familial rates of Alzheimer’s disease are related to specific genes, age of onset, and typically account for less than 5 percent of all Alzheimer’s disease cases.” —Dr. Krystal L. Culler.
Alzheimer’s can only be treated after a diagnosis
“In the past few years, there’s been a shift in the thinking for many of us who study dementia. We’ve come to the conclusion that the best time to treat Alzheimer’s disease is before the earliest symptoms surface. This shift has been brought on by new technology that allows us to peer inside the human brain… We now know that the Alzheimer’s plaques begin to proliferate ten or even 20 years before the first Alzheimer’s symptoms become noticeable.” —Kenneth S. Kosik, MD. These are the early signs of Alzheimer’s that every adult should know.
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