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7 myths about dementia everyone should know

MYTH 1: Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the same thing.

FALSE.

Dementia is not a disease but a general term describing the loss of memory, reasoning, and other thinking abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease and the most common cause of dementia. Other causes of dementia include Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal dementia, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. More details can be found in this article.

MYTH 2: Dementia is a normal part of aging. 

FALSE. 

Cognitive impairment that interferes with daily life is not a normal part of aging. Although the risk of dementia does increase with age, dementia is not an inevitable part of aging. Many people age without experiencing any symptoms of dementia. Be sure to discuss any cognitive health concerns with your doctor right away.

MYTH 3: There is nothing I can do to minimize my risk for dementia.

FALSE. 

2020 Study by the Lancet Commission showed that up to 40% of dementia risk is within our control! A heart-healthy diet, regular movement, social engagement, learning new things, sufficient sleep, managing other health issues (e.g., hearing loss, high blood pressure, diabetes), and wearing a helmet to protect against head trauma all play a part in reducing our risk. For more information on reducing dementia risk, check out SCDHEC’s Take Brain Health to Heart campaign.

MYTH 4: Dementia-like symptoms are never reversible.

FALSE. 

There is currently no treatment that will reverse the brain diseases that cause dementia. However, sometimes symptoms that seem like dementia appear as a result of medical conditions that may be treatable. Some examples include depression, infections, medication side effects, high blood pressure, substance abuse, and nutritional deficiencies.

MYTH 5: There is no point in getting an early diagnosis of dementia since there is no cure for it.

FALSE. 

Although there is not currently a cure for any type of dementia, there are several benefits of an early and accurate diagnosis: 

  • As mentioned above, the symptoms could be caused by another treatable medical condition;
  • Treatments are often more effective or only available in the early stage; 
  • Participation in clinical trials is typically offered to those in the early stages;
  • Early diagnosis can result in people living independently in their own homes longer;
  • Confirming a diagnosis and determining the next steps can relieve stress; 
  • A person diagnosed early can actively participate in family, legal and financial decisions; 
  • Family members and caregivers have time for education and connecting with supportive community resources 

MYTH 6: Memory loss is always the first sign of dementia

FALSE. 

Although forgetting recently learned information can be the first sign of some types of dementia, this is not always the case.

Other early indicators of dementia can include: 

  • Significant changes in speech and/or comprehending language
  • Challenges with visual and spatial processing that cannot be explained by an examination of the eyes
  • Changes in personality such as significant mood fluctuations or socially inappropriate behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Significant sleep disturbances

Sometimes a person may exhibit these symptoms as early as their 30s or 40s.

Learn more about signs and symptoms: Alzheimer's Association's 10 Common Warning Signs

MYTH 7: A cognitive assessment is not included as part of a Medicare Annual Wellness visit. 

FALSE. 

Those who qualify for Medicare are entitled to a free annual wellness visit. A cognitive assessment is included as part of that free visit, even if it requires a second appointment to complete.

For more information on dementia, join us for our free monthly “Dementia 101: The Basics” webinar. Contact Tori Anderson at toanderson@aging.sc.gov to register!

 

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